It happened so naturally, neither of them noticed. Growing up, she had a stack of books she hid under her bed. She was a member of her school’s safety patrol— a ceremonial title at best, Bunnyburrow sometimes seemed the definition of safety, the most dangerous things she encountered being talkative busybodies or a bunny cheating on an agricultural science quiz. Even in such an inconsequential role, Judy did her best to make the world a better place. After finding another girl crying in a bathroom stall, she was quick to give the gossip-mongers or backstabbers responsible a stern talking to. The rabbit who looked over her paper more than was acceptable during an exam was kindly suggested to do otherwise, and reported if the behavior did not stop. She was never the most popular bunny because of this, but Judy Hopps bore her title with pride as she confiscated trashy romance novels with cracked-spines from a giggling fluffle of classmates. A symbol of pride, she would hang up her vividly orange sash indicating her position with care every night.
Bunnies are known for their multiplying, making them the butt of many a jest, and leading to Judy taking away more illicit novels from her experimenting peers than should have been necessary. It was with exasperation that she finally acknowledged the truths of the oft-repeated offensive jokes. She started noting a trend within her last year of junior high, and the amount of smutty literature she saw in her peer’s paws by the end of her high school education was ridiculous. Reading the descriptions on their battered backs, as the highly moral and upstanding mammal she was, made her want to immediately throw the text on the ground, or maybe in a trash can. She never took this route, however. The truly filthy ones she would immediately hand to a teacher or administrator, shame-faced and nose twitching. But the more mild ones, the books with satisfying romances, somewhat decent writing, and less-incriminating covers; these were kept in a steadily-filling box underneath her bed. It was hard to keep such things secret in a house full of 275 (and steadily growing) siblings, but Judy managed. She shared a room with several of her siblings, so her book collection was lost in the clutter of the many young kits, thankfully.
She would read her books under several quilts, to hide the light of her flashlight from her siblings. The weight of the blankets also smothered her sighs as the leading lady of whatever book she was reading finally got together with her shockingly masculine love interest, as well as the feverish flipping of pages whenever she encountered a particularly racy scene. Those scenes were the reason she took away the books, and she did not want to betray her beliefs, even if the heavily thumbed edges and dog-eared corners suggested the quality of the passage. If anyone had asked her, Judy would insist that she did not read the books for their suggestiveness, but for the romance.
There was something satisfying about the pair she had been rooting for since the beginning ending up together. Mammals that weren’t bunnies, interesting and foreign characters sharing a passionate kiss, exchanging “I love you”s in the most impossible ways and in the most unreasonable locations: Judy lived for it. Waking up with bags under her eyes and a headache in the front of her skull was worth it to read about her heroine ending up with her soul mate. She was not an overly sentimental rabbit, at least outwardly, as most of her passion was reserved for justice, which is why she valued her books so much. She was given an outlet for her deeper emotions in the trashy novels she took from her peers. Every day, she looked forward to a night that would likely end in an over-the-top love confession and a happily-ever-after ending.
Her parents loved each other sweetly, in a comfortable routine that had not changed for years, but when thinking of romance, Judy did not even think to acknowledge it. Her parents just were. They were nothing out of a story, nothing dangerous and exciting that could compare to her other thoughts of love. Love was either at first sight or hard-won and obvious, something that she would have realized that she had. And she didn’t think she ever would have it. It was not something a bunny bumpkin from a quiet little town could achieve, even when she was now in her hard-won position as city cop. It was impossible to attain. Love was a whispered declaration on the brink of death, or a tender embrace that showed everything the heroine could never say. Judy could never see that happening to herself, but it was not a distressing thought. Love was not necessary for her to live a happy life. She had friends, family, a job she loved, and she did not need a dramatic and epic love story to sustain her. And if she ever felt like she did need that romance, she could just continue to live through her novels, now in a neat library in her dingy apartment and easily accessible in an application on her phone. She was content.
Love for Judy was always over-the-top. That is why she never saw it coming.
With Nick, it was never love at first sight. Her heart did not stop at her first look at him, the rather unimpressive image of a fox nearly getting hit by a truck and then slinking confidently after a big, lumbering elephant. He was sneaking, more than anything, a smug look on what she could see of his face. She did not see him as attractive, with his strangely bright fur, his long snout and swishing tail. She did not feel a thing, if she was being honest, except suspicion. Her parents had emphasized the untrustworthy nature of foxes, and she had believed them. She had not followed Nick in a lovestruck stupor, but rather, she followed with a watchful eye and a hand eager to leap towards her fox repellent.
But then, he was just a caring father, an older mammal with a kind voice and an adorable son, the duo almost the epitome of what she believed Zootopia to be. Nick Wilde was a nice topper to her successful morning of writing a record-breaking amount of traffic tickets, the crowning achievement to a day in which she had set out to prove that she was more than just a dumb bunny. And she had done it! She had stopped a health code violation, gotten a precious little boy his ice cream, and maybe even made a new friend. She gushed over the two of them, buying them their jumbo pop and sending them off with a smile, but even then, the fox was nothing like a love interest. He was just another step in the winding stair that Judy was climbing to make the world a better place.
And then Nick Wilde was a cheat. And a liar. And a bully. An impediment to her investigation, a cruel trickster, and a smug ass (not to insult the kind donkeys she knew). He was just a frustration, a cruel animal who messed with her just to see her get angry, just to ruin the investigation of the fuzz. She almost thought he got joy from being so malicious, from keeping her from finding an innocent otter. To the surprise of both the bunny and the fox, it did not last. Unexpectedly, he became a friend. He was the fox whose life she saved, who saved her life, who saved her career. He was a kind soul hidden behind a cruel exterior, someone who could make the world a better place along with her. He was just poor and mistreated, and Judy knew he didn’t want her pity. So she encouraged him instead, getting him to join her cause. He was more than a cruel and sly fox, even if that was the image he wished to project. Judy wondered why she ever thought foxes could be inherently malicious once she had Nick at her side. He beat all those old offensive stereotypes her parents had tried to pound into her head. He was a helping hand, a mammal that kept living life even though so many other animals wanted to see him pushed down and beaten. He was strong and kind and brave and funny, and he was going to be her partner and her confidant.
And then he was just the fox she hurt with her ingrained ignorance and big mouth.
But still, he was not a love interest. It was essentially out of the question. If Judy was the main character of a romance novel, he would be her sidekick, perhaps. He would be the one that dispensed advice and encouragement, the one that introduced her to the bunny that would change her life forever. He was not the obvious love interest a reader would have called by the second page. Foxes and bunnies were never meant to be together, after all. Natural predator and prey, even though they had overcome their differences. He was a friend, emphasis on was at the time. Even when they made up and finally cracked the case that truly kicked off Judy’s career and began Nick’s, she would never have thought of him in a romantic fashion. He was her friend, her closest friend, not a soul mate, boyfriend, lover, what-have-you. Her thoughts never even suggested it.
It happened gradually in a way that Judy never expected. While Nick made his way through the police training, they did not see each other much. Nick was studying (“You are such a horrible influence on me, Carrots.”) most nights, and Judy was busy with her job. Even without the guiding hoof of Bellwether, Chief Bogo had come to see her as a bunny committed to justice and being an excellent police officer. She was not given another difficult case like that of Emmett Otterton’s, but she was not given grunt work or piles of paperwork either. Most days she could be found walking the beat around Precinct One, greeting the mammals she knew by name and waving at the ones she didn’t. She would help lost younglings find their parents, calmly sort out any conflicts that seemed like they could escalate. It was not exactly the heavy-hitting work she was qualified and well trained for, but Judy did not mind pleasant days patrolling Savanna Central, the occasional pleasant evening getting dinner with Nick at whatever restaurant he had recommended. They both treasured their time with each other, paying much closer attention to the way each other looked, the things they each said, than usual. They had to save up the experience, savor it before their next meeting, which could be weeks or even a month in the future.
Once Nick graduated from the academy, the duo more than made up for the time they had not spent together for the months Nick had been training. Sometimes it felt like they were joined at the hip. Clawhauser certainly seemed to think so, notifying them as they walked out of the station one day that they were, “Like brothers, only closer.” When they weren’t walking or driving around Precinct One, they were working on paperwork at their adjacent desks, out getting a meal together, or spending time at one another’s apartments. It happened slowly, neither of them anticipating it, but eventually they were spending almost all their waking hours together. The only times she didn’t see him was when she would take the bus or the Metro back to her apartment at night, or when she got ready in the mornings. Sometimes, that wasn’t even the case, since she slept over on his couch often enough. Judy certainly didn’t mind their time together, and as far as she could tell, Nick didn’t either. She had never been this comfortable around another animal, let alone a predator. But it did not even matter that he was a predator anymore. Judy had never spent this much time with another animal, discounting her family. And when she spent all hours of the day with her family, it was guaranteed she would become short tempered, a little fed up with their actions and their personalities, at least for the day. It was never like that with Nick. Even when his teasing went too far, or his puns were extremely terrible, she enjoyed spending her time with him.
She looked forward to seeing him every morning, when she would pick him up for the drive to work. She smiled to herself every time she saw him out of the corner of her eye, even if he wasn’t doing anything in particular. He could be reading a report, blinking, picking at his teeth with one of his claws— it didn’t matter. Sometimes he would catch her looking, and she would make an ugly face in his direction, or stick out her tongue in a way that was distinctly juvenile. He would laugh, or roll his eyes, or tack on one of his nicknames for her onto an insult. She just smiled and turned back to her work. It was easy, it was fun, and she had never been happier. Returning to her tumble-down apartment every night, with her loud neighbors and greasy walls, couldn’t even bring down her spirits. She was having the time of her life. She was living in her dream city, working on her dream career, with the animal she cared about most always at her side. She loved having a best friend.
“You know, I think we should move in together,” Judy said, one day.
The pen Nick had been idly chewing on while looking over a case file nearly flew out of his mouth as he spluttered at the bunny across from him. It would not have taken much to distract him from the case file, as it was almost shockingly obvious that the pony whose weak alibi he was reading clearly committed the breaking-and-entering, but Judy had bowled him over with her statement.
“What?” He finally managed to say.
“Yeah!” She said, as if he had already agreed. Her ears stood straight up as she explained herself. “It makes sense. I mean, we spend so much time together already, and we are at each other’s apartments almost every night.” She ticked off the benefits of moving in with Nick on her paw. “It would save rent money, and it would save gas money. You can do the laundry, I can kill the spiders. I wouldn’t have to listen to you complaining about the stairs up to my apartment anymore. What do you say?”
“I say,” Nick pointed at Judy, “that your stairs are a menace, and there is no way I am moving into that greasy dump you call an apartment.”
“I figured I would move in with you,” Judy replied. “Your space is much bigger, and you actually have a fridge and a washing machine.”
Nick paused before answering. His expressions had been an enigma for a long time, but Judy was becoming more and more adept at reading his face. He had already made up his mind, and he was just making Judy wait. He liked making her irritated, since he could call her overly emotional whenever she tapped her foot fast on the floor, or wiggled her nose in a way that expressed her distaste. She did what Nick expected much sooner than she normally would have, if only to make him spit out his response already.
“So impatient, Carrots!” He said, giving Judy his trademark smirk. “Do you need any big strong foxes to help you move your things?”
“If I did, I would be out of luck, wouldn’t I? I don’t know any big strong foxes.”
Nick scoffed, bringing a paw to his chest. “I am wounded, Officer Hopps.”
Judy raised a single unimpressed eyebrow and turned back to her paperwork. Her partner was not so quick to get back to work. She missed the slow grin that steadily took up Nick’s face, quick as he tried to suppress it. And Nick missed her similar expression. She consciously laid back her ears, wondering why she felt so jittery and warm after one of their customary conversations.
It turned out Judy was right. It just made sense for the two of them to move in together. It was convenient and comfortable. It made things easier. Nick’s apartment was further away from the station, but it was bigger and they saved time leaving from the same place every morning. She no longer had to walk down the street to do her laundry, instead, she just walked down the hall. Her room (formerly a guest room, though whether or not Nick ever had guests, Judy was not sure) was bigger than a closet, and her actual closet was able to fit more than six hangers. She could have more than just microwavable dinners, now that she had a functional kitchen. Her work could now be done on a computer, instead of being handwritten or typed with difficulty on the small screen of her phone. Nick had an old, secondhand television, and they spent many a night sitting in front of its little screen, watching whatever show the fox had recently gotten her hooked on. She had a couch to relax on at the end of a long day, and if she ever needed Nick, she no longer had to text or call him. She could just turn to him and say whatever she needed to, or raise her voice to reach him when he was shut up in his room.
Their lives had been closely tied together before Judy had moved in, but now their lives were intertwined in a routine that they each picked up with ease. Judy always woke up earlier than Nick, getting ready and brewing coffee while her fox still laid in bed. He would usually wake up around the time Judy was ready to go, but if not, Judy was quick to go into his room and flick his nose or tear his blankets off of him to get him awake. He would pull on his uniform half-asleep, almost forgetting to grab his sunglasses. Judy would already be waiting at the door, two thermoses of coffee tucked into the crook of her arm, and a smile on her face.
“You animal ,” he would groan at the sight of her grin, pushing past her.
Judy would just laugh as she watched Nick shamble out to their car as if he was still sleeping. It was in the mornings that it was clearest Nick was a nocturnal mammal. The grey light made him seem leached of color, and the most conversation Judy got out of him most mornings was the occasional grunt as she chattered good-naturedly for the whole of the car ride. The fox was miserable, but it was a little funny, and at any rate, he had shot down Judy’s offers to sign up for a night shift.
“I won’t inconvenience you,” he said with a wave of his paw. “And besides, Jude, I’ve been working in daylight for years now. Wouldn’t make sense to stop now.”
Once at the station, they would head to the Bullpen, getting their assignments for the day. With Judy’s high status in Bogo’s eyes, and Nick’s, which was significantly lower, they always had a pleasant variety in what they had to do. Some days it was just paper work, or the task of watching for speeders during rush hour. Other times, Chief Bogo would throw Judy a bone, or rather, a bright red case file, and give her a job that normally would be reserved for one of the force’s senior detectives or liaison workers. Officers Hopps and Wilde both enjoyed their work, even if Nick liked to pretend he didn’t, and they would end each day heading back to their apartment, content.
One of them would cook dinner, or they would run out and get it, not willing to sit down for a meal in uniform, and not willing to go home and change just to have a meal. A year before, Judy would have been hard-pressed to leave her work at the station, but now she was happy to leave police work with the police, happy to curl up on the couch for a few hours before bed, idly watching the news (if Nick was choosing the station) or a silly sitcom (if it was Judy). It was most agreeable to let her body sink into the worn cushions of the couch, listening to the TV drone on. Sometimes she would bring one of her books into that space, curling away from Nick and his eyes that always seemed to be watching her, to avoid questioning about the contents of the embarrassing work. Most nights however, she just sat there, half-watching whatever was on the screen. And it was the most natural thing to just reach out her paw and grasp Nick’s, or to feel Nick’s claws idly scratch at the soft spot behind one of her ears. There was only one bathroom in their apartment, and they got ready for bed in tandem, ducking underneath each other’s arms as they went about brushing their teeth, washing their faces. Judy took her showers in the morning, and once her partner turned on the showerhead, she would head to her room for sleep at last. Most nights, she would bid Nick sweet dreams as he pushed her out of the bathroom with one paw, undoing his belt with the other.
They had a comfortable routine, and it turned out that Judy was most uncomfortable when that routine was interrupted. The first time her pleasant routine was changed, it was by Nick. Most of the day had gone by just the same, the only significant difference being that they called in for takeout instead of just getting something from a drive through. Judy had been sitting on the beat-up couch, reading one of her novels and idly sipping on the straw of her soda. It was one of her favorites, set during the Age of Sail. It was about an okapi pirate queen that falls in love with the military officer she was meant to be holding for ransom. She was mature enough now to read through the racy parts of the book with a straight face, but she had some trouble schooling her features during the more emotional sections. The novel had a bittersweet ending, the okapi pirate releasing the officer to avoid a battle that would surely take both of their lives, swearing that they would meet again, on another horizon. She had cried the first time she read the conclusion in high school, stifling her weeping with a fist so that she would not wake up her siblings. Now she was able to smile at the ending, knowing that things were not necessarily over for one of her favorite couples.
She was smiling at that scene when a red-furred paw entered her field of vision and snatched the book out of her own paws. She cried out, lunging towards Nick, trying to take the book back. She had kept these books hidden for years for a reason. She had confiscated them from her classmates for a reason . Unfortunately, the fox was bigger than her, and though Judy had graduated top of her class at the academy, in part due to her fighting skills, Nick was able to hold her back while he examined both covers of the book. Judy groaned, leaning her head against the firmness of his hand. He was going to tear her apart.
“Forbidden love on the waves,” he crooned, smirking at Judy. He spoke like he was narrating over a selection of smooth jazz, slow and sultry. She pulled herself off of him, narrowing her eyes, jutting out her jaw, but giving up the fight. There was no getting out of it now. She stood on the couch, crossing her arms and waiting for Nick to finish. “Queen Rizpah of the dreaded Pirate’s League had one goal: conquering the sea. Captain Hoover was just another disposable mammal to aid her in her goal… until he became so much more.” Nick started laughing. “You read this crap, Carrots? I always wondered what all those books in your room were.” He threw the book back to Judy.
“It is not crap,” Judy told him. She caught the book, holding it to her chest defensively. “It is an epic love story. There’s good writing, relatable characters, and a very satisfying ending. It's one of my favorites.”
Nick eyed the cover, which featured a scantily clad okapi with a ripped shirt barely covering her chest and gold hoops in her ears, fixing the viewer with a suggestive gaze. She had one of her legs hooked around what was presumably the mast of her pirate ship. “Sure. You know, I try not to judge a book by its cover. For example, I never would have stereotyped you as a dumb bunny— ow!” Judy had punched him in the arm. Not hard, but foxes really were so dramatic. “But really, how I am supposed to take this book seriously?”
“You know, maybe it's just too sophisticated for your taste,” Judy said.
Nick gave the cover another pointed look. “Sure, that’s it,” he said.
“I have some other good ones,” Judy said, unable to stop herself. She loved the banter they always had, the teasing and the oral fur-pulling that went on between them. She never got tired of his jests, and she hoped he never got tired of her teasing. “How do you feel about female knights? Vampire slayers? Ancient heroes? Prostitutes?”
“What kind of things do you read, Carrots?”
“Nick, Pretty Vixen is a literary masterpiece, and I don’t appreciate your condescension.”
He shook his head. “I’m sure the writing is just wonderful, but that doesn’t make it not trashy pulp erotica you probably pulled out of the depths of a bargain bin at a yard sale.”
“Double negative. And I don’t read it for the, you know, I just like the stories. The romance.”
“Uh-huh. Hopps, that garbage is not romance.”
“What is romance, then?”
“If you say so.”
“Oh, come on, Carrots, you know.”
“No, actually. Nick, I don’t,” Judy said simply, in her best no-nonsense tone. Sometimes the teasing went too far.
Nick’s eyes widened. He looked shocked. Judy didn’t like it one bit. It was like she was supposed to be embarrassed about it, or something like that. He opened his mouth slowly before saying, “Judy, have you never been in a relationship?”
Suddenly, Judy was very uncomfortable with the way this conversation was going. This had never bothered her before, rarely came up unless she was feeling particularly lonely on any given night. She was suddenly very bothered by her lack of romantic experience. Her indignation was very quickly being replaced with the sensation of a strange knot her stomach had just tied itself into. “No,” she said, very quietly.
She was in her twenties, an adult with years of experience under her belt. But this conversation made her feel like a kit, in more ways than one. She was suddenly very aware of her innocence. She never had been in a relationship. She had had an infatuation with the occasional rabbit growing up, but she had been much too busy pursuing her dreams to pursue a relationship. And she had been happy with that, until now. Now it seemed like something should be ashamed of, something she should fix. To add onto all that, Nick was almost ten years older than her. That had never seemed to matter, but it was now a big deal. He was more mature, he had more experience, he knew more of the world than she did. He was giving a look Judy did not recognize and did not enjoy, something that was worried and surprised and hopeful all at once, and she was not comfortable under the full scope of it.
“Carrots—” he began, but Judy was quick to interrupt, in that twitchy speediness that characterizes bunnies.
“I’m going to bed,” she said loudly, scampering off to her room. She closed her door louder than was necessary. She was not sure why she was so upset and flustered, but she expressed these feelings by throwing her book at the floor with as much force as she could muster. It was not very dramatic, since it was a paperback and the floor was carpet. She picked up the novel as soon as she threw it down, putting in its bookshelf next to all the others. Then, she flung herself onto her bed, uncaring that she had not brushed her teeth or washed her face, only wishing that sleep would come quickly. Unfortunately, it stayed far away while she ran over her conversation with Nick several times in her head, analyzing why she had gotten so upset. Eventually, her body just ran out of steam and she dropped off to sleep. She had uncomfortable dreams that led to her being irritable the entirety of the next day.
That was the bad thing about having a routine. Once it was broken, it seriously threw a wrench in the works. She and Nick never addressed the situation again, and things went back to normal. That is, until one day, Judy did not wake up with her alarm. It was several months later, in winter. Judy could usually be found lagging during the cold months of the year, her body wanting nothing more than to stay under the warm covers on her bed and staying there for the rest of the day. However, she always managed to get up in time to get ready for work, to go through her morning as she always went through her mornings.
This one day, however, it did not happen. Nick was the one waking her up, instead of the other way around, and Judy noted with horror that sunlight was streaming through the window of her room. That meant it was nine o’clock, at least. They were supposed to report into the station at 7:30. Judy Hopps had never been late in her life. She was full of quiet horror. Nick had shaken her into wakefulness, his paws still on her shoulder, at least, until she sat bolt upright.
“What time is it?” She demanded.
“Nine forty-five,” Nick told her, panting. His fur was sticking in several different directions, his pupils wide in his green eyes from exertion. He had obviously gotten ready quickly, one side of his collar was sitting higher than the other.
Judy practically threw herself out of her bed, yanking off her pajamas in a feverish rush. She quickly pulled on a sports bra and a fresh uniform, and did not even attempt to brush her disheveled fur into something that resembled smoothness. She hurriedly pinned her badge onto her vest, got ready to sprint out of her room to grab her heavy winter coat, and realized that Nick was still standing by her bed. He was slackjawed, his eyes watching her in a way that reminded her unpleasantly of that night with the romance novel.
“What are you looking at? Let’s go!” Judy cried, grabbing his arm and practically dragging him to the door. They both pulled on their coats and ran out to the car.
Judy drove in silence, not even turning on the radio. Her chest was heaving. She had not done much running, but her body was still sleepy enough that it seemed like she had just run a large race. It was a start to what was surely going to be an awful day. She carefully watched the speedometer as she drove, not daring to go more than two miles above the speed limit.
“You know,” Nick said in a gravelly voice. He cleared his throat, and then repeated himself, “You know, I think it would be fine if you went a little more above the speed limit.”
“That’s against the law, Nick,” she responded. “And we’re nearly there, anyway.”
They ran into the station, Judy not making much noise, Nick’s claws clicking against the marble floor. Judy headed straight for Clawhauser, who was just finishing up a call. He smiled apologetically at Judy as the bunny realized who he had been making the call to.
“Hopps! Wilde!” Shouted Bogo, in a tone of voice the bunny had not heard since catching that horrible drug dealing weasel almost a year ago.
Judy and Nick shared a worried look. “I’m sorry, you guys,” Clawhauser said. “It's just my job.”
“It's alright, Benji,” Nick told the cheetah. “And it's unlikely we’ll get in trouble, with Ms. Live-by-the-handbook here.”
“Hey,” Judy said.
“Well, good luck,” Clawhauser told the both of them. “Either of you want a donut?”
They did. The donut made Judy feel a little better, but only just. If she thought about it too hard, it felt like the donut just made her stomach roll even more. She continued to eat it anyway, if only to do something while making the trek up to Bogo’s office. Nick didn’t like sweets that much, and just handed the donut he took to Judy once she finished hers. She absently thanked him, being careful to not get any sprinkles on her uniform.
“Don’t be worried,” Nick said. “We aren’t that late.”
“Two hours,” Judy pointed out.
“It's your first offense! And you’re Officer Judy Hopps. Chief won’t fire you, if that’s what you’re worried about. If anything, I should be worried.”
Judy would have responded, but they were at Bogo’s office by then. She knocked on the wood of the door, being too short to reach the frosted glass.
“Come in. I want to see Hopps first,” said Bogo.
Nick patted Judy’s back and, reaching out a paw, brushed the sugar glaze that had stuck onto the fur around her mouth. Judy wished suddenly that she had taken the extra time to smooth down her fur. She probably looked like a mess, but there was nothing she could do about it. She walked into Bogo’s office, and tried her best to breathe steadily.
She crossed the carpet silently and sat down in the uncomfortable chair across from his. They sat there in silence for a few minutes, a favorite interrogation tactic of the Chief. Let the accused stew in their guilt for a little bit, let them think on what they did and what the possible consequences could be. It worked on criminals as well as officers that didn’t do exactly what Bogo expected of them. Once he decided that Judy’s ears were sufficiently laid back against her head in shame, the cape buffalo began to speak.
“Look at yourself, Hopps,” he said. “You’re a mess.”
“Excuse my appearance, sir,” Judy said, eyes on her feet.
“Look at me, now.” Bogo did not look impressed, arms crossed over his broad chest, eyes narrowed more than usual. Some part of her knew that the Chief wouldn’t punish her too severely, but it still took a lot of effort to keep her nose from twitching in distress, to keep her feet still from their nervous tapping. “I don’t have a problem with relationships between by officers, as long as they don’t interfere with the work we do here. I like you, Hopps, but this is unacceptable. Almost three hours late, after more than a year of exemplary service, and for what?”
“What?” Judy did not so much ask, it was more like she couldn’t get herself to say anything else. What would make Chief Bogo say something like that? Judy had frankly never been more surprised, not even when her parents allowed her to go to the Academy. Not even when she and Nick had cracked the Bellwether conspiracy. Judy’s thoughts spiraled. Her and Nick.
“That’s what I’m asking you, Officer,” Bogo said, pulling her out of her own thoughts. He looked increasingly angry. “You and Wilde have all the fun you want, do what bunnies do and all that. But this behavior is unacceptable. Do not allow it to interfere with your work! Three hours late” The last sentence, he emphasized each syllable by pounding his hoof on his desk. He scoffed, cutting himself off. He put off the image that he was too angry for words, though the bunny sitting across from him was pretty sure he could have kept going for a while.
Judy opened her mouth, then clicked it shut again. She did not know how to respond. Her mouth was now perfectly capable of creating speech, but she could just not think of an adequate response to the buffalo’s words. She sat in the hard chair in that bare office in silence for a beat, and then finally responded to Chief Bogo.
“You think I’m having sexual relations with Ni— Officer Wilde? Sir?”
The Chief laughed, or to be more apt, blew air rather harshly out of his nose. “Are you not? You two live together, judging from the change of address form I had to read over, hang all over each other during work hours— unacceptable!— work all your cases together. I assumed, we all assume. What else am I supposed to think, Hopps? And then you show up to my station three hours late in rumpled clothing, a funny little glazed look in your eye, and fur sticking up in a way that makes me think your morning has been much more interesting than mine. Again, what am I supposed to think?”
Judy just looked at the buffalo across from her, hunched her narrow shoulders, and said, “I guess what you just said. Sir.”
Bogo shook his head, waving a hoof at her. “You get a warning, Hopps. Do this again and I won’t be as lenient. Not during work hours, got that? Now get out of here, and tell Wilde to get his tail in here.”
Judy walked out of the office, numb. Nick held his paws out to her, pads up, somehow a questioning and comforting gesture all in one. “What’s the verdict?” He asked.
“We aren’t in trouble,” she said quietly, not looking the fox in the eye.
“What did he say?”
“Does it matter?” Judy asked sharply. She winced at her tone, putting her face in one of her paws. She did not want to look at Nick. She was afraid of what he would see in her eyes, what she suspected she had seen in his. “Just go in. I’ll wait out here for you.”
Judy leaned against the wall, sliding down slowly until she was sitting. She stared at nothing in particular. How had she not realized? How could she have been so silly? She had looked at trashy pulp novels as models for love, and did not look right in front of her. Bogo was right. Not about the sex, but about their relationship, nothing he said was wrong. What was it that was between Judy and Nick if it wasn’t love? How many people had guessed before she was just now realizing?
She felt so stupid.
Their lives were completely and irrevocably intertwined. So completely intermingled that sometimes, it felt like there had never been a Judy before Nick. Her love for the fox had developed so slowly and quietly that she hadn’t even realized until someone was rude enough to point it out. She realized she had never felt this way about another animal, and she was having difficulty reconciling ‘best friend’ with ‘boyfriend’. ‘Lover’? What would she call him? Would she have to call him anything? Judy thought about keeping these new found feelings bottled up, not letting Nick know a single thing about it. It would hurt, but she could never know if Nick felt the same way. She would not confess to him and risk their friendship. It wasn’t worth it.
She had decided long ago that she did not need love to live a happy life. For a while, she wasn’t sure if she could ever love anyone. Judy supposed she just needed someone like Nick to come along to make her realize her ability to love like this. She did not like it. She would not let her emotions show. Love was not as easy as her books. It turned out love was hard, and it hurt, and it sat like a lead ball in your stomach. It was scary to think of what could happen if she told Nick, or if Nick guessed, and so she would not let it show. She had always been impulsive with the way she felt, and this bottling up was very new to her. She wasn’t sure how it would work out.
By the time her partner came out of Bogo’s office, he looked distinctly uncomfortable. Judy had managed to school her expression into something highly passive and natural. She repeated Nick’s question from earlier. “What’s the verdict?”
The fox just looked at her, and did not respond. Judy had never once remarked upon it, but she saw that Nick was very handsome. It was weird that it just took a few words from Chief Bogo to make her realize. He was not good looking in a way that a bunny was, all soft edges and shapely ears. But that did not mean he was terrible looking. He slouched, and his snout was long, his eyes disconcertingly green against the bright red of his fur. But his smile was beautiful, his voice was comforting, and he was there for Judy in a way that no other mammal had been before. She saw him with new eyes, and saw that she had been looking at him like this for a while, but never noticing. How had she not noticed? How had love snuck up on her so suddenly? It was difficult to keep a neutral expression, but she was able to watch Nick solemnly as he was finally able to speak. He had been looking at Judy while she looked at him. She wondered what he saw, and hoped he did not see anything of what she had been thinking. She wondered if Bogo had just told him the exact same thing he had told her. He hoped Nick didn’t see right through her.
“Uh, sounds like we’re doing paperwork.” His voice sounded strange, but the fox tossed his head and was able to speak in a normal tone of voice, which for him meant mocking. “For the next few weeks, if I heard Bogo correctly through all that empty blustering.”
“Better than getting fired,” Judy said brightly. Nick laughed slightly, coughed, and agreed gruffly. They headed back downstairs to their adjacent desks, and that night, they ate together, and sat together in their shared apartment, and got ready for sleep together, and suddenly, it was a little painful that they went in separate directions to go to their beds. It was a silly feeling, and Judy did her best to ignore it.
After having their comfortable routine ruined, Judy was questioning whether or not the routine was comfortable any more. She felt an unpleasant fluttering in her stomach every time she had to go into his room and shake him awake, and was constantly conscious of how much the two of them touched each other. They were pressed up against each other in the bathroom as they got ready in the mornings. Their paws touched as they grabbed ingredients to mix in with their coffee. Nick’s arm curled around her seat’s headrest in the mornings when they drove. They were confined to their desks, and she was suddenly sitting far too close to the fox, his comforting smell too strong in her nose, the flash of his fur too often seen in the corner of her eye. He would reach out and tap her shoulder if he had a question for her, or a funny story, or to ask if she wanted a refill of her coffee. She would get up and get a refill herself, sometimes, and his tail would seemingly reach out to caress the back of her legs. He would roll his chair away from his desk, moving to sit too close to her and smile at her too much and be himself too much, and Judy was sick of having to school her face, her eyes so that he could not tell how she was feeling. She hated it.
She loved it. She was not sure how she felt about it. She felt warm inside every time she looked at Nick, she felt her mouth quirking up into a smile at the sight of him, even as she put forth efforts to keep her face clear. She wanted to reach out and touch him, to be as comfortable around him as she once had been, but she did not want to give herself away. She would do one thing to show her true emotions and Nick would know, and everything would be ruined. Judy valued their friendship too much to act on what she felt.
It was worse at night, after work hours. She had no paperwork to distract her, no other officers to talk to to keep her away from her partner. He was there, and there was nothing else, and he was impossible to ignore. He was supremely comfortable in her presence. He was stretched out and languid, quick to toss his legs or his tail over Judy’s legs, to reach out and grab her paw or brush at her face. He loved to scratch at the soft fur behind and between her ears, and Judy had to lay back her ears as if content, even though they wanted to stick straight up with stress and tension. Judy knew she used to be just as easy around him, just as ready to touch and stroke and play, but she found that she couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t make herself reach out and perform the action, because then he would know . She would sit on the far edge of the couch, out of the reach of his paws, sitting ramrod straight and keeping her eyes on the television.
For two weeks, she got away with it. It took Nick a while, but eventually he stopped being as free with his affection. He no longer threw an arm around her waist casually, or grabbed her paw out of the blue. He stood or sat a respectful distance away, adopting the tense and forced-casual stance that Judy found herself perfecting. Besides this, they were normal together. They continued their usual banter for the most part, but Judy found there was something distinctly off about it all. She did not like it. She liked that she did not have to force herself to be extremely normal as much anymore, but it seemed like Nick was losing interest, just in their friendship. It hurt.
Judy had never been in love. Judy did not know how to act, how to speak, how to look. And since she had no idea what she was doing, she was driving the person she loved away. She was frustrated and confused. Eventually, apparently, her distraught nature was so impossible to ignore that Nick eventually confronted her about it. It had been two weeks and three days since Judy had not woken up with her alarm clock. It had been two weeks and three days since Bogo had confined her to paperwork. Two weeks and three days since Judy had realized she was in love with Nick Wilde.
It was after work, after the drive home. If Judy had been Nick she would have done it in the car, where she would have had no opportunity to escape. Of course, under the full weight of his gaze, in the grasping comfort of their old couch, she had not room to escape, either. She had sat down right against the arm of the couch, away from where she knew Nick would sit. She had barely sat down when the fox settled himself right in front of her, just within the wide V of where her legs were positioned.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Judy said, as happily as she could manage. She knew the ruse was up, but Judy didn’t know when to quit.
“Something is obviously the matter, Judy,” Nick asserted, crossing his arms. The use of her full name made it very clear that Judy had been found out. She resisted the urge to throw her head into her paws. “You’ve been acting off for the past few weeks, and I thought, you know, maybe it was because you got told off by Chief Bogo, and you would get over it in a day or so. But it’s been two weeks, maybe more, and you’ve just gotten more and more distant. So, what’s up?”
“I’m serious, Nick, there’s nothing wrong.”
“Did I do something? Is it me? Was it Bogo?”
“There’s nothing wrong.”
Nick had looked very unimpressed, hands settling on his hips and an eyebrow raising to previously unseen heights. But his expression quickly became something much more tender and questioning. Judy almost couldn’t bear it. “I don’t believe that for a second, Judy. And if it was me, something I did, I-- I wanna know what I can do to fix it.”
“Would you drop it?” Judy asked sharply. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, Nick!”
“So it is something. Would you just tell me? Obviously you’re upset.” Nick deliberately kept his voice level as Judy’s raised. This made Judy want to lash out even more, but she fought her voice back to lower levels.
“Nick, really. Drop it. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I just want things to go back to normal. It’s only been two weeks, but it feels like a lifetime, Jude. I don’t like this at all. I want you to quit shutting me out, and we can’t fix a single thing if you keep things bottled up. That’s how a relationship, a friendship , works, Carrots.”
He was right, of course. Judy kept her professionally still face in its position, but behind her expression, her mind was running a mile a minute. She had never wanted Nick to know how she felt. But she had the awful feeling that he already knew. He was just waiting for her to say it. Knowing Nick, he would either play it off with a joke, or respond in kind. Judy wondered if it was worth the risk. She had never been so careful in her life, but this was more important than throwing her mind into studying, throwing her body into training. She was throwing her whole heart out to Nick in one gesture. She trusted the fox, but it was terrifying to put all of herself just in one set of paws. She considered herself brave, but maybe not brave enough to take that big leap. She wanted to reach out and grab that love she had ached for, but she was scared. Irrationally so. Nick would never hurt her on purpose. Judy usually never broiled on her emotions, instead she was impulsive to a fault. She wondered if by repressing this part of her, she was just hurting the situation further.
Then, she decided to stop thinking. She took the plunge.
In a very quiet voice, she looked up at Nick and said, “I think I’m in love with you.”
Whatever Nick expected to hear, it wasn’t that. He did not reel backwards, or wince, but his paws came up to his chest in that way of his when he was shocked or worried or flustered. Judy winced, bowing her head. It seemed she had made a mistake. She should never have said it. She shut her eyes, which ached and burned like she had been crying for hours, even though nothing had welled up yet. In a very bunny strain of thought, she wondered how quickly she would be able to get away from this dangerous situation. Before that thought could come to a conclusion, Nick’s paw lighted upon her jaw, tipping her chin up so that she was looking up at him again. He was smiling, Judy noted. She was crying. She tried her best not to note that, not even raising her arm to brush the drops away from her eyes. He kneeled where he had been standing, between Judy’s knees.
“Now, what’s wrong with that, Carrots?” He asked. “Am I that bad a fox?”
“No,” Judy said miserably. She couldn’t stop the wobble in her voice, which made her even more distressed. “I’m scared.”
“Scared about what?” Nick’s face fell. “Scared that I’m a fox?”
“No, no!” Judy was quick to reassure him, almost flinging out a paw to grasp him by the shoulder, but stopping herself so it was just a weird waving motion in the air. “It isn’t that.”
“Then what is it?” Nick asked softly. He kept his paw on her face, in that comforting position. It took all of Judy’s strength to not rub her cheek into the pads of it, to take the affection she was not sure he was offering.
“I’m just, I’m scared that you don’t feel the same way about me.”
“You’re scared that I don’t love you? That I don’t love Judy Hopps?”
“Yes,” sniffed Judy.
“And here I am, thinking I was being obvious. Dumb fox.” The fox sighed. “I’ve felt the same for almost a year now. Maybe not love, at first, but it’s certainly become that. Judy, I’ve never cared about any other animal as much as I care about you. I mean, you saved my life. You changed my life.” He stopped talking, but he kept his paw cupping Judy’s face. Eventually, “Are you going to say anything?” He asked, smiling at her.
Judy smiled back at him, a wobbly, slightly wet smile. She had been scared for nothing. She had just had a miserable two weeks for no good reason, she had tortured herself and beat herself up over this, and it was all for nothing. She was glad she wasted all of that effort. She was glad that all her efforts to compartmentalize herself had failed. She thought about answering Nick, but her smile just wouldn’t leave.
Judy realized her life had just changed, but she did not want to acknowledge it. Nothing would ever be the same. Interspecies relationships certainly weren’t uncommon, but they weren’t exactly smiled upon either. It wasn’t going to be easy. It could be a struggle. But Judy liked a challenge. Judy liked thinking of facing everything the world had to throw at her, but with Nick at her side to support her. They would be happy, despite any difficulties, this she knew. It was hard to think of the hard times, though, with Nick’s paws caressing her sweetly, his smile that wouldn’t fade. She banished the bad thoughts, enjoying her happy and pure moment, for she knew it would be a treasured one in the years to come.
She had her dream job, in a dream city, now with a fox she loved at her side. The only time Judy could remember being this happy was when she was finally inducted onto the force, and she wondered if this moment with Nick, in their dingy apartment on their secondhand couch with the fridge buzzing in the background, would one day surpass that. Luckily, Judy had a long time to figure out the answer to that thought. She thought she had been content before her realization, just living alongside her best friend, but her happiness in the face of Nick’s mutual feelings made that seem pale in comparison. He was still her best friend, but he was something more now. It felt right .
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” Judy finally admitted.
“Need to take a breather?” Nick teased.
“I think,” said Judy, “I need you to kiss me.”
To Bogo’s satisfaction, the duo was never late to work again, at least, not by any considerable or mind blowing amount. He was glad they had taken his advice. To further the cape buffalo’s pleasure, the bunny and the fox stayed perfectly formal at work. The Zootopia Police Department did not have any sort of agreement for office romances, nothing to make the consenting parties agree not to jeopardize the force or to impede other officers’ work. But with Judy’s strict moral code, much of the same started happening. The most public displays of affection Bogo heard tell of, which, thankfully, he never really heard tell of, were of paws lingering too long when handing over coffee refills or warm copies of whatever had just been printed. He was sure more went on once he allowed them to do field work again, but the Chief did not let it bother him. He had larger things to worry about.
To Nick’s dissatisfaction, Judy kept things professional even when they were in the field. Even when they were just sitting parked in alleyways or along sidewalks watching for speeders, on those quiet uneventful days which sometimes descended on Precinct One, the bunny would bat off wandering paws. She would push away any snouts that got too close to her cheek as she was driving, though she did allow Nick to rest his paw on hers on the gear shift. Nick minded it, quite a lot, but things were made up for him once work was over for the day, once they were back in their apartment.
Nick had always been one for casual touches, for keeping close. Judy supposed it was a fox thing. He had this need to know his surroundings, to know where his things were, to know that the things he cared about were safe. Judy was a part of that now. She had been part of it before, but apparently, Nick had been holding himself back. Luckily for the fox, she had grown up with an abundance of siblings, and bunnies were also fond of keeping close and warm. She had great patience for it. She spent most evenings comfortable and bemused on their old couch, Nick practically curled up in her lap with how close he insisted on sitting. The fox never got tired of keeping close to Judy, and while she had gotten slightly annoyed with younger and older siblings hanging off of her most hours of the day, Judy just found Nick’s habits endearing.
She wondered why her thoughts had never taken the seemingly obvious step from friends to lovers with her and Nick. One of his paws in hers, the other one idly stroking the fur on her bare forearm, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Sometimes she would bend down, kissing his forehead, or he would surge up, peppering kisses all over her fluffy cheeks until she got flustered and embarrassed. When they were out and about in the evenings, they held paws, or he would keep a hold on the back of her shirt to make sure she was always close. She loved it, the feeling that he always needed her by his side.
Their love was a casual, comfortable thing. Long, warm nights, and eventually, lazy mornings waking up in each other’s arms. It was not dramatic, and it was not high stakes. It was not like fireworks, lightning, or cannon fire, though sometimes it was butterflies in her stomach. Their love was real and close, pleasant and warm like an old quilt or his chest when she laid her head on it. Their love was nothing like the love in her stories, it wasn’t much for a romance novel. It was better suited for Sundays off, staying in pajamas all day. It fit better with leaving the station just a few minutes early, just to get more time together without work hanging over their heads. Their love was running out to get Nick’s favorite cereal at six in the morning because he just discovered that he was running low. It was Nick rubbing her shoulders after she made a barely-noticeable complaint about their soreness. It was sitting together peacefully, not saying a word but knowing the other so well that no words even needed to be said.
It was nothing like a story. It was much better.