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It was interesting how much society as a whole tended to shy away from ‘fear’. Nick often wondered if things would have been different if fears were better addressed, or at least somewhat looked at, instead of brushed and swept under the proverbial rug. No one seemed to want to talk about what they feared; maybe it was some deep rooted mentality that made animals think they were weak. After all, once upon a time… weakness could get you killed. Still, Hell if he knew.

Tell truth, he hadn’t really stopped to think about any of this before, and probably would have spared it little thought in the future, had he not noticed a strange little trend where his partner was concerned.

Sometimes, in certain circumstances, Nick could swear Judy was afraid of him. The notion did not sit well with him. It cut and hurt, but above all, made him deeply uncomfortable; had he done anything at all to fuel this fear in her? Had he stepped over some line somewhere and hadn’t noticed? Was it his fault?

The first time the notion had crossed his mind, the fox had snorted outright, shaking his head at the mere idea, because honestly now; if that rabbit was afraid of anything, anyone at all… it sure as fuck wouldn’t have been him. The girl could take on fucking rhinos in a fist fight, for heaven’s sake! She had him beat, both in strength as well as lightning fast reflexes. Judy was no pushover, and it was with delight that he watched her demonstrate that fact day in and day out.

And yet… the moment the seed of doubt had been planted, it became an annoying, persistent  thought in the back of his mind, which he couldn’t quite purge. It reared up its ugly little head at the most inopportune of moments, and it was mostly due to the fact he couldn’t stop thinking about it that he started to notice things. Little twitches, jumps… side glances when she thought he wasn’t watching, and each little action made a new blossom of doubt grow forth.

'Your fault, your fault’, his mind screeched at him, and more than once he’d found himself dangerously close to some sort of panic attack.

He felt like a kit again, thrown on the floor, mocked and belittled… simply for being what he was. It was then that Nick realized that he couldn’t really begrudge Judy her fear, were she to have any, because holy shit, she scared the bejesus out of him too. Granted, it was probably in an entirely different way, but alas, there it was. She mattered to him; what she thought mattered to him, and there was no going back anymore. She had power over him, and tell truth… he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It was almost hilariously ironic, that this one, tiny  bunny scared him more than anyone else within Zootopia.

Despite his overactive imagination, his insecurities had only remain that; insecurities rather than cold, hard facts. At least at first. He hadn’t gotten a real glance at the problem they were handling until one day, when Judy had been hurt in duty.

He’d acted on instinct, really; hadn’t thought twice about what he was doing. Anger had overridden his worry at the time, though he figured the fact they had still been facing imminent danger to be the cause. Whatever the reason, Nick had found himself suddenly covering her smaller frame with his own, turning his head sharply towards their attacker. His ears had pinned back, lips curled back into a most vicious snarl, because how dare this asshole?! How fucking dare he toss Judy’s body against the wall like she a rag doll?!

He hadn’t realized the snarl that had reverberated through his frame until he’d felt the way Judy had shrunk back and away from him (or at least tried to). The movement had been strange enough to catch his eye, distracting him from the imminent danger up ahead, and all he’d managed to catch sight of before he’d been knocked away and slammed against a garbage can… had been his partner’s large, wide, terrified eyes gazing straight into his.

Nick had blacked out after that, and he was about 89% sure that her fear had hurt more than the cool metal connecting against the side of his head after he’d been flung away by the large bear they’d been facing down.

He’d woken up in Judy’s admittedly small bed with a splitting headache, his cranium neatly bandaged up and the bunny responsible for it all asleep on a chair by the bed. She’d slipped from her sitting position, her head cradled on her arms as they rested on the bed she was apparently safeguarding. And again Nick found himself growling, albeit this time in frustration, because of course she’d think to put him to bed. Of-fucking-course she’d put him in her bed, and try to nurse him back to health instead of seeing to her own well being and geesus fuck she was so frustrating at times!

His frustration instantly melted away though, his head dropping back down on the pillow he’d been resting on, because lo and behold, this one, tiny, frustratingly annoying rabbit was probably the first soul that had ever given a flying fuck about him or his well being in general in a long, looooong time, and really, how could he ever be angry with her for doing so?

He’d slept the night away with that thought in mind.

After that first incident, Nick had swiftly come to realize that Judy tended to twitch, shiver and sometimes even recoil away from him if he growled. It was worse when he snarled, albeit said occasions were far and in between, not to mention never ever actually aimed at her. He’d also caught the deeply ashamed looks of guilt that kept flashing over her features when she caught herself doing it, and for some reason… the fact she was doing it unconsciously and beating herself up over it hurt him all the more.

It was several weeks later when Nick managed to drag up and push forth the proverbial courage to address the elephant in the room. He’d turned his head to watch her out the corner of an eye as she lifted and moved her gaming controller in an attempt to beat him at the game they were playing. She’d taken residence on top of her bed, while he remain seated on the floor, gazing up at her. When her character managed to knock his without resistance off the screen, she huffed, blowing against her cheeks before turning a pout onto him.

“That one doesn’t count,” she said, “You weren’t even paying attention, Nick. I hate it when you let me win…”

He didn’t answer at first, and instead turned to look away from her, setting his own controller on the floor as he tried once more to work up his courage; he wasn’t the bravest of animals, and his first instinct was usually to retreat rather than confront, “Soooo…” he drawled out almost languidly, “I’ve got a question for yah,” his head turned slightly to the side so he could watch her out of his peripheral vision, “Do I… er…” he fidgeted slightly, and then let out a frustrated sigh, his ears flopping back to press against the back of his head, “Do you fear me?”

His question was met with silence, and though he saw enough movement to know her ears had fallen from their usual perked position, he couldn’t quite make out her expression. As such, Nick shifted and turned to glance at her, and thanks to that, was privy to the series of emotion waging war upon her features; it was clear she wanted to put his insecurities to rest, and yet… did not want to lie to him in order to do so.

Trust was important to both of them, and it was soon enough obvious that Judy couldn’t find it in her heart to lie to him, “Yes… no…” a pause, “Sometimes?” she bit her lip slightly, her eyes looking left and right before falling upon his face, only to dart away seconds later, “It’s not your fault,” a self-deprecating snort was her answer, and it was enough for her to turn back sharply to face him, “It’s not! It’s really not!” she was so adamant in her reply that Nick found himself tilting his head to one side in a show of obvious confusion.

Something about the gesture apparently tickled her funny bone though, because a ghost of a smile tugged at the edges of her maw before her features settled into a strange look of determination, “May I?” her arms had spread somewhat, her palms facing heavenward, and for several long beats, Nick found he had absolutely no idea what it was she wanted from him. Her hands moved again, making small, beckoning gestures at him then, as if she wanted him to move closer, which he did; right to the point his shoulder had hit her leg, “May I, please?” she inquired again, and this time it became clear that… for whatever reason, she wanted permission to touch his face.

His first, instinctual reaction was to scoff, but instead, he found himself looking up at her with a blink, and then shrugging because okay, sure, why not? Girl could’ve asked him for the moon and he’d have at least made a valiant effort to fetch it. She wanted access to his head? Fine, she could have his head.

That was how Nick found himself with his head on her lap, and her hands slowly but surely roaming around his face, “You know,” she murmured under her breath as she allowed her right hand to move over the fur of his cheek, “You told me your story but it occurs to me… I never really told you mine,” all he offered her was a small, barely audible, non-committal noise, because it was around that moment that her hand reached the top of his head, offering his left ear a few scratches and Nick was quite sure she could’ve told him the world was ending within the next few moments and he wouldn’t have given a damn.

The whole situation had gone from awkward to mellow, peaceful, and just… so horribly sweet that he could barely restrain himself from letting out a small sigh, eyes unfocused as he hooded them over.

“You’re not listening,” her hands stopped their roaming, and later on, he would doubtless find himself horribly ashamed of the small whine that came out of his throat, but at that moment in time, he was still deep within the realms of 'no fucks to give’, “C'mon, Nick, listen to me. I’m trying to tell you something here,” her hand did dutifully return to its previous roaming upon his whine, but she made sure to keep away from his ears, eliciting a small pout from the fox below, “You know how I’ve always been a bit of a uhm… I think the word you use for it is 'spitfire’.”

“Yeaaaaah… from day one, actually.”

Judy nodded slightly, “Well uhm… that er… that wasn’t just a trait I got when I reached adulthood, letmetellyou.”

“You don’t say?” came the languid chuckle from the fox.

“Hush,” her hand came to palm his cheek in a mock smack before she settled back into the previous roaming of his fur, apparently lost in thought and memories, “Well, let’s just say that when I was a kid I was more or less a miniature version of the me from nowadays. Except, you know. Without the police training,” she chuckled at herself, then shook her head, “Had a bit of a hero’s complex even then. Wanted to prove myself. Justice!” she said as she offered him a wink from her vantage point, “Except… well, like I said. I had no training, and I had a tendency to bite off more than I could chew.”

Judy’s hand stilled, and her ears drooped again, which in turn made Nick open his eyes and train his vision back on her face.

“There was… this boy back home,” she said, “This… fox. Bit of bully,” a pause, “A lot of a bully actually. Easily twice my size, and I er… did my thing. You know? The thing where I kind of act before I think?” she turned to look down at him and Nick noticed she looked a mixture of proud of herself and… sheepish, both at the same time, “So yeah. Did my thing. And he didn’t really appreciate it all that much… which is to say he…” she lifted her left hand, posing her fingers into claw like shapes and then swiped at the air in front of her, “Kind of traumatized me at time, I won’t lie. I’d never bled like that before… but at the same time, it only pushed me further into my ideals. Made me want to try harder; figured if I grew into my own skin, I’d show him.”

A growl rumbled through him unbidden, his ears flattening back against his skull once more at the story she was telling, and again, Judy stiffened, her hand stilling in its trajectory down his face. Her sharp intake of breath was enough to cut his growl short, his eyes darting up to meet hers. He let out a sigh, closed his eyes in defeat and allowed his ears to flop uselessly against the nape of his neck, because geesus fuck, not two seconds had gone by since she’d said that, and already he’d managed to make her uncomfortable again. As soon as Judy released him, he was going to move over to that desk over there and make good use of it by headdesking against it. Repeatedly.

He was brought out of his mental tirade when Judy mock-smacked his cheek again, “It’s not your fault,” she told him, and when he turned to look up at her, she scowled at him until his gaze skittered away from her, “Seriously, it’s not. Besides…” there was a hefty amount of hesitation in her voice as her hand crept downward until it covered the side of his muzzle. A pause followed, and then, “May I?” again he shrugged, and again she took that as permission, her fingers parting his lips to get a good look at his sharp fangs.

It was his turn to draw in a sharp intake of breath as he felt her small finger running over his fangs for a few seconds before they retreated and she lowered her head, placing her nose against his.

“I trust you, Nick,” she told him as she closed her eyes, “Do you trust me?”

“Yeah,” he wasn’t even sure how on earth he managed to draw breath to utter that single syllable, because honest to god, he felt like someone had a good grip upon his windpipe. The word came out strangled at best, broken at worst.

“That’s all that matters.”

And strangely enough… Nick realized she was right. That really was all that mattered.