It happens suddenly. When a shady fox stands up for a distressed rabbit. In the middle of the Rainforest District, late at night, to a buffalo ten times his size. He begins to trust, and he lets himself be vulnerable to her. Fair trade. And the bunny's heart may just skip a beat because, suddenly, the fox that had been mocking her changed completely. From saying she could only be a meter maid. From immense skepticism of her positive viewpoints. To support. To trust. Suddenly.
It happens slowly. When a bunny hurts her best friend and doesn't see him again for three months. Despite her optimism, something grasps her chest and makes her feel heavy. The fox tries not to think about the ordeal. Carries the carrot pen around, but he'll swear up and down that he only thinks about hustling. Nothing more. But as time lengthens, he can only miss her more. She can only regret more. And maybe, just maybe, a tinge of something more than regular "friendship" begins growing. Slowly.
It happens calmly. When neither fox nor bunny want to lose their cool. Sure, they can share pasts and look out for one another. Even get worried over things like impaled legs. But never for a moment would either animal seriously consider the fleeting thoughts of being more than the cop partners they were. No way a fox would reveal that there was something about the bunny's smile that grew hope in him, or that a fear in his gut rose up when he might say something too risky (such as: "How's the cute meter maid?" or "Don't you know you need me around?" ooooor even "You know you love me"). No way a bunny would admit that every touch between them lingered in her mind at random times of day (that tap on her shoulder, the embrace when she nearly fell off her dumb desk in excitement, the paws brushed every once in a while). Until they do. To themselves. Not yet to each other. That would happen later. For now, they kept it to themselves. Calmly.
It happens quietly. When the fox scribbles notes instead of loudly mocking the bunny when she does dumb bunny things in the office like get her ears caught in something or knocking over her full cup of coffee (she's done it five times already, he claims, but she swears it could only have been once or twice), and the bunny, getting to work as early as she does, makes sure to clean up any occasional anti-fox graffiti so he wouldn't have to see the unknown culprit's ugly words (he already has, a lot of the time, but didn't let it phase him since he had the best partner in the ZPD). Instead of making plans to spend time together, they fall into conversation (and a bit of something else) on the way out of the ZPD when off-duty, and find something to do somewhere in their chat-walks. Both getting odd stares. Both ignoring them to pay attention only to the glances they share, the ridiculous laughter, the growing closeness. They say nothing special. But sometimes, for a moment or two, find themselves holding the other's paw. For many moments. For many minutes. For the remainder of the walk. For the extended walk they create to spend more time together. Gradually closer. But not a word about it. Quietly.
It happens shockingly. When one day, the bunny finally decides to stop holding back and kisses the dumb fox's nose in thanks for getting her extra carrots for lunch. When the fox returns a kiss on the cheek the next day, just because she "looked too cute to resist" (he had to jump back to dodge the angry punch after that one). And instead of saying anything, they keep trying to catch each other off-guard. Do better than the last. A kiss on the paw. A kiss on the head. A morning kiss upon arriving to work. A deeper kiss. A caring kiss. A longer kiss. A passionate kiss. They don't stop. Shockingly.
It happens pleasantly. When the fox and the bunny simply stop correcting the assumptions made by other mammals (including their favorite doughnut-loving cheetah). Their method of communication-through-glances perfected, their hand signals refined (the fox's skills may have needed extra refinement). No vocalizations needed to communicate from which restaurant they'd want to order food or where they'd go next. Gestures and inside jokes (like, "maybe in 48 hours"). A home to which they could return, no matter how far from District One they traveled, because they always had home with one another. Pleasantly.
With the clock reading midnight and Judy unable to catch a breath between yawns, she knew the night was coming to a close. Her eyelids could hardly keep open, and her brain buzzed painfully as it grew harder to focus on analyzing clues. Around this stage in her fighting-sleep-cycle, the dumb fox would cue in his usual—
"Carrots, it's time. Come on. We'll continue the case tomorrow."
"Five more minutes," Judy grumbled. Then looked up at Nick with wide eyes. At least, as wide as she could keep them open in her nearly-comatose state. "Please?"
That drew a sigh and firm shake of the head from her partner. "Not happening," Nick said, sweeping the files from in front of her in one swift motion and holding them firmly behind his back. He leaned down a bit from his standing position, looking the bunny directly in the eyes. "And you, officer, are not getting these back until you sleep. So it's either bedtime or boredom. What's it gonna be?"
"You're no fun," Judy said, pouting. "Maybe I'll just play games on my phone. No boredom."
"Right, on the phone you left in the police cruiser because you 'didn't want to get distracted from the case,' sweetheart?" Nick set the folder on the very top (he may have needed to stand on his toes a bit) of a nearby bookshelf that occupied the motel room. The fox leaned onto the desk Judy had been using to work. "Let's go, Carrots. You need rest."
With a sigh, Judy finally nodded. Though Nick offered to help (which she refused since she was fine, she claimed), the smaller mammal managed to crawl her way into the motel bed and the two curled into their usual sleeping position for nights like these, nights out on a case. Judy curled into Nick's chest and Nick curled around Judy: arms, tail, and everything. Any bunny would probably call Judy a fool, and any fox may think Nick was successfully attempting trickery. Which, sure, he had been a conman before, but he'd long moved past the stage where he would even consider Judy a potential target for trickery. Moved years past the stage, really.
"Thank you, Nick," Judy murmured, curling tighter to prevent Tundra Town's frigid temperatures from sinking in.
His head rested over hers, and he stroked the edge of one of her ears. "Mmm. Sleep, okay?"
"Isn't it kind of funny?" Of course, a million other thoughts would run through the bunny's head now that she was in bed and too tired to remember details about the case. "A fox and a bunny falling in love."
It was the first time she'd said it out loud, the first time Nick heard it, and it was beautiful.
"Maybe," Nick shrugged, "but you know what?" Nick pulled back just enough to kiss the top of his love's head before giving her paw a small squeeze and holding her closer.
When the bunny nuzzled closer, feeling completely happy and completely at home, as did the fox, the fox gave the answer.