OH LOOK it's yet another thing that's not more Year of the Dog. Sorry about that.
So in case some of you don't know, Zootopia was fantastic. It's a really interesting world to play with, and Nick and Judy are brilliant characters who totally deserve each other. I wasn't even halfway through the movie before I concluded that I gots to ship that.
The Rabbit's Dilemma, or Professional Help
Judy had always treasured Nick's smile - not to be confused with his smirk. The smirk was just his face's resting position after a traumatic scout meeting and 20 years of hustling convinced him that the world shouldn't get to see him feel. The smirk was softer and warmer these days, and Judy was pretty sure it now reflected Nick's satisfaction with his new lot in life.
The smirk was typical, but Nick's smile was something special. Judy couldn't be sure, but she suspected he saved it just for her. It was warm and genuine, and decidedly unlike the smirk. The smirk told the world he was doing just fine, thanks, but the smile was his way of showing Judy he was truly, almost sickeningly (his words, not hers) happy - usually with her.
Occasionally the police power-couple's action-packed version of domestic bliss even wrested a laugh from Nick's lips. He'd laugh so freely and deeply that she could see his teeth, and she'd treasure the peace she felt at seeing him happy. Those used to be Judy's favorite moments with Nick, but things had changed, and she desperately wished she could change them back.
It wasn't that anything about her foxy boyfriend had changed. No, the change came from within Judy, and it had taken root in her so slowly that she hadn't noticed until the damage was done. Now, when Nick laughed, she just saw teeth. Sharp, predatory teeth, designed for hunting and devouring soft little creatures like her. The original purpose of those gorgeous canines was not the issue, though. The problem was how she felt about them.
She loved Nick's teeth.
It hit her one day when they were sharing a cloud of cotton candy as they strolled through the park. Judy held the swab of neon fluff aloft for Nick to take a bite, and the entire thing had threatened to come off the cone when the sweet-toothed fox bit into it. Judy hadn't noticed, so he put a paw on her shoulder while making an indistinct noise of alarm to get her attention. It was all he could do with his mouth full of spun sugar. The grey rabbit had paused and immediately dissolved into giggles as she noticed his predicament. He narrowed his eyes at her reproachfully, but she knew he was only playing with her. She watched in amusement as he pressed a paw gently against the middle of the swab and carefully pulled with his teeth, extracting a bite that was just past reasonably sized instead of ending up with a pink beard.
Her amusement had apparently turned to fascination without her noticing, because she barely registered Nick commenting that his sharp teeth were still good for something. She had been too busy watching, mesmerized, as he tore a chunk out of the treat, licking his lips with his (relatively) big fox tongue to remove the sticky residue. It wasn't a warm day - it was pleasantly breezy with just enough sun to remove the chill, in fact - but a startling heat had bloomed in her face and trickled down to her stomach. Watching him bite his way to triumph over something unwieldy and uncooperative was… breathtaking.
Since that day, she had been hyper-aware of Nick's predatory features - his teeth, his claws, his sleek, powerful form. Yes, bunnies were also sleek and powerful, but there was no denying that foxes wore it differently. She knew that Nick would never intentionally hurt her - it was one of the most fundamental truths underpinning their relationship. She had absolute faith in him when it came to her safety. She trusted him with her life every day, on and off the clock. Judy never once entertained the idea that Nick would use his predatory advantages against her.
But she became increasingly distraught at the idea that she might want him to do just that.
It was a startling thought, but she tried to approach it rationally. At first, she just focused on the awe Nick elicited in her, wondering where the heck it came from. In time, she realized that it had started when they'd put on their show for Bellwether, convincing the perfidious ewe that Nick had gone savage. Judy was surprised to find herself considering the possibility that she'd always felt a thrill at the idea of Nick preying on her. The memory of his teeth gently pressing on her neck in the museum made her head swim. She daydreamed about him claiming her in a savage way, making the most ancient and base parts of her bunny brain pulse with fear and trepidation while her higher faculties whispered that she was safe with him.
She desperately wanted to feel her boyfriend's teeth against her skin, but she was too afraid to ask. When she decided one night to weigh the pros and cons of asking, she found that the only pro on the list was her own selfish pleasure, while the con column contained an incredibly sobering possibility that she hadn't fully considered until she'd sat down to puzzle it out on paper.
How would Nick feel about her fetishizing something he was born with? Something he had to fight his entire life to overcome? He didn't ask for those teeth. Those teeth had nearly earned him a place on what was sure to be the losing side of a struggle between the powerful many and the innocent few. Even in a scenario where he didn't leave her immediately, his lips curling in disgust at the idea of acting out the worst parts of his people's history for her amusement, he might silently wonder whether he was Judy Hopps' foxy boyfriend, or just her fox.
Judy had stared at the page, reeling, as she seriously considered the possibility that she was a despicable deviant who didn't deserve Nick's love at all.
She'd been worthless at the precinct and on her beat for the next few days, and it hadn't escaped Nick's attention. He was her partner in all things, and he knew when she was upset. Watching Judy practically sleepwalk through the motions of their work was not easy for him. Things were no better at home, and his favorite bunny's frown knocked the smirk right off his face. His lips were set in a thin line that week. He worried that he'd done something to upset her, or that she'd suddenly realized that she was a well-adjusted, bona-fide supercop and that shacking up with a lazy, emotionally challenged fox was a silly mistake. At work, he might have been holding her back from advancing through the ranks. At home, he'd never be able to give her a family the way a rabbit buck could.
Emotionally challenged as he was, it took the red fox the whole week to muster up the courage to ask Judy what was wrong. She gave him a wobbly smile and assured him he'd done nothing wrong.
She even went so far as to reiterate that she loved him. It was true that she said it on a daily basis - "I love you" was their goodbye, their goodnight, and their incantation for washing away a bad day - but there was nothing automatic about the way she said it this time. She did her best to leave him with no doubt about it. She told him that he was amazing, and that she was sorry for being so strange all week, explaining that she was just disappointed in herself for something. She promised she would explain it when she'd had more time to think on it, and privately resolved to stop making him worry. She focused on her love for Nick and her work, bending her frown back into a decent facsimile of her usual determined grin, and only allowed herself to ponder her tooth fixation when she was alone.
Ultimately, Judy ended up on the internet in search of answers. She set out to establish whether other prey animals had these strange feelings in the context of loving relationships, but what she found was mostly prey animals coming off as fetishists, admiring predators in passing or seeking them out for flings. Her stomach turned at most of their stories, and she struggled against the idea of comparing herself to the likes of them. She loved Nick long before she realized she loved his teeth. But what if the thrill had always been there? What if her subconscious was being selective when it told her Nick was funny and kind and handsome and deserved all the love in the world? Those things were all true, but loving his predatory features seemed to taint the love she felt for him as a whole. It was heartbreaking to consider that maybe the love she felt for him wasn't as pure as the love he felt for her.
She finally decided to enlist professional help. She made an appointment with a therapist - a cheetah, because she felt she needed to speak to a predator about this. She needed someone who could tell her how Nick might feel before she decided to detonate their relationship with the truth - the truth that Nick absolutely deserved.
Dr. Jubatus had a disarming smile and a quiet, cozy office, for which Judy was grateful. It made it easier to muster the courage to explain what she was feeling. The distraught bunny had described her issue, her face glowing with embarrassment, resolving to just make a run for it if the kindly-looking cat judged her harshly. So far, it looked like she wouldn't have to run.
"Even though 90% of Zootopia is prey, the vast majority of the animals who come to see me are predators. Do you know why?"
"Umm. Because they feel more comfortable talking to a predator?" Judy guessed.
"In most cases, yes, but what do you think they would want to discuss with a therapist that would make them seek out a fellow predator?"
"Feelings that they think only predators have?" Judy slowly ventured.
"Exactly. There are predators who come to me feeling guilty about the thoughts they have about prey, and they're usually some of the kindest animals you'd ever meet. If they've come to me, it means they see a problem with their attitude and want to correct it. Often the feelings they have toward prey stem from mistreatment at the paws of prey species when they were young."
"My boyfriend was treated horribly by a scout troop that was all prey when he was a kit. They ganged up on him and muzzled him. They told him they couldn't trust him not to go savage." Judy's voice was quiet but hard as she related the story of the first big blow to Nick's soul. "But he didn't hold it against all prey. He just pretended not to feel anything when people treated him like he was dangerous or shifty."
"Some animals would have taken a very different lesson away from an incident like that. I won't say that your boyfriend took the right one, but there are a few bad ones he didn't take. He sounds like a very nice boy." The cheetah smiled.
"He is." Judy smiled weakly. "That's why I'm so afraid to lose him. I don't want to think about what would happen if I told him I thought of him this way. It's the last thing he needs after all he's been through."
"Do you really think you'd lose him if you told him you admire his teeth?" The question stung, but it wasn't unexpected. It just hurt to hear it from someone other than her internal voice.
"I don't know!" Judy flung her arms up in defeat. "It's twisted, isn't it? I love him so much, but this stupid, giddy feeling I get when I remember he could bite me - and I know he never would!" She interjected. "It's crazy." She began to tear up. "I don't deserve Nick if I think of him as a predator. I know how much he hates it when people think of him that way. I just wish I could stop f-feeling this." Judy's voice broke as she fought her tears and the urge to sob.
The cheetah kindly handed her a box of tissues. "I know for a fact that you don't think of your boyfriend as a predator."
"Aren't you supposed to be a professional listener? I just said his teeth turn me on!" Judy cried flippantly. "Why couldn't it be something like his fur that made me feel that way?" She moaned, pausing to blow her nose. "I love his fur. It's soft and gorgeous but those -" She gave a shuddering sigh. "Those teeth are just mesmerizing." She whispered.
Dr. Jubatus smiled wryly at Judy's jab about her comprehension skills. "I have been listening, and I'm not hearing someone who thinks of her boyfriend as a predator. I'm hearing someone who's more afraid of herself than the fox she shares her life with. I'm hearing someone who loves her boyfriend enough to worry that her feelings could offend him. I've been listening to you worry about how unhappy he would be if you were to hurt him, while glossing over the pain I'm sure you would feel if he left you."
Judy pondered the doctor's response in silence.
"Have I established to your satisfaction that you love your boyfriend and don't think of him as a predator?" The cheetah asked playfully.
Judy let out a sniffle of mirth as she dabbed at her eyes. "I think so. I still don't know what I'm supposed to do, though. He deserves to know that I have those feelings."
"Actually, I would argue that an animal has has the right to keep her thoughts private." Judy looked up in surprise. "Especially if you believe the thought would do harm if it was shared. A thought alone doesn't harm other people. It's how you choose to act on a thought that matters."
"So you're saying I don't have to tell him?" The bunny asked meekly. Keeping it bottled up didn't seem especially attractive, but neither did telling him.
"That's right. But you also need to consider what kind of pain you might go through keeping these thoughts to yourself." Judy frowned. "There's a possibility I don't think you've considered, though." A set of rabbit eyebrows rose in suspense. "What if you told Nick how you feel and he was interested in helping you explore those feelings about his teeth?"
Judy opened her mouth to speak, but she wasn't sure what she was planning to say. She considered it for a moment, her eyebrows furrowed together. "That sounds more like one of my daydreams than anything." She muttered dejectedly.
"So you've fantasized before about discussing your curiosity with Nick and then exploring it together?"
"Yeah." Judy mumbled. "I mean, that would be ideal, since apparently this feeling isn't going away."
"It usually doesn't make much sense to blame a feeling. The best thing to do is examine the feeling and ask if it causes harm. In this case, the only downside of the feeling is your guilt over feeling it." Dr. Jubatus explained.
"I guess." Judy sighed. She was silent for a few seconds, staring at the floor. Eventually she lifted her eyes to the doctor. "Do you really think he'd be… into this fixation I have?"
The cheetah smiled - Judy was daring to hope. "I think it's a chance worth taking. As for how you should broach the subject, I think you should tell him mostly what you've told me. Even though you fell in love with him for all kinds of the usual, wonderful reasons, you've developed an interest in his predatory features. You're feeling guilty about that interest, and that guilt is causing you a lot of pain. You'd like his help either exploring your curiosity, or trying to leave it behind." The feline doctor summarized. "And you love him. But I think we covered that." She added with a smile.
Judy gratefully returned the doctor's smile with one of her own. She could finally see a path forward. All she needed now was courage.