Judy sat on the front porch of the main building of the Hopps' Family Compound in a red-and-white gingham shirt and jeans. She rocked back and forth in a rocking chair, taking in the pleasant breeze that cooled the otherwise hot afternoon. The front door squeaked open, and Nick hopped out; one of Judy's younger brothers held fast to his leg.
"Okay, off, off please," Nick pleaded, shaking his pant leg to try to dislodge the bunny. "Listen, I heard there's a huge bug out here for this afternoon only that eats boy bunnies, so you better be safe, okay?" The boy gasped and ran into the house.
"No boys can go outside!" The panicked voice grew softer as it retreated.
"Lying to a child, Nick," Judy shook her head in disappointment. "Tsk, tsk."
"Free at least," Nick grumbled, sitting down in a chair next to Judy. He yelped as he felt the chair move, and carefully brought his tail up into his lap. "I guess you guys don't get many long-tailed visitors, huh? These things can destroy tails!"
"It's Bunnyburrow, Nick, so no, we don't get a lot of non-bunny visitors," Judy rolled her eyes. There was a moment of serenity that they hadn't gotten since they first arrived on the farm together. "So, I see you survived your first one-on-one with my dad."
"Sure did," Nick chuckled, tugging on his almost objectively offensive electric-blue Pawaiian shirt. "Had to go through the list of do's-and-don'ts for being your partner. Mostly don'ts."
"That sure sounds like my dad!" Judy said in a perky, jovial voice, her paws grabbing her knees as she rocked her head back and forth a bit. She gave him a guilty smile.
"Wasn't that bad," Nick shrugged. "Especially because Bonnie said she hid the fox taser from him."
Judy let out a nervous laugh. "You don't regret coming here, do you?"
"Oh no, not at all," Nick gave a huff of amusement. "I have plenty of fans." Judy turned her head to the window and saw rows of bunny eyes and ears watching the two.
"Them, you mean?" Judy pursued, jerking her head in that direction. Nick turned his head and flinched.
"Jeez! Doesn't anyone here know anything about personal space? Or privacy?" Nick's eyes were wide.
"In a word... no," Judy laughed. The voices of the bunny kits weren't completely muted by the window in between them, and Judy and Nick could both hear them, though they were wondering if they should pretend not to.
"Do you think they're gonna kiss?" One voice asked.
"Oooh, a fox and a bunny? That's so weird...!" An interested voice cooed.
"Hush, dummy, they're not even dating. That's gross." Another voice reproved the others.
Another round of silence. The fox and the bunny both hoped the kits would get bored and walk away. A few of them did.
"Psh, can you imagine us? Dating, I mean?" Judy asked. Her voice came across a bit unusually. Nick's ear twitched and he heard it, but he pretended to ignore it.
"Not really," Nick replied plainly, not even looking at her. Judy felt her ears droop and reflexively stroked through one of them with a paw.
"Uh... oh..." Judy was trying really hard not to sound hurt. The thought of dating Nick had always sort of been a strange, dangerous question to her. Should she do it? Did she dare? Lately, she was having a hard time ignoring her feeling that she really desired an answer to that question.
"How'd it be any different than being on the job together?" Nick let out an indifferent grunt. "Ben's all over us every time we make some sort of quip at each other, which is all the time. Gets a bit annoying, really."
"Ha, yeah," Judy's eyes furrowed as she stroked her other ear nervously. They were so familiar with each other; perhaps too familiar. Nick turned his head toward her and gave a very tiny smirk.
"Learned some things about you from your father," Nick declared. Judy's ears shot up in alarm.
"Oh, great," Judy winced. "He didn't tell you my middle name, did he?"
"He did not do that," Nick enunciated curiously. "What is it?"
"Nothing!" Judy giggled in panic. "Do go on!"
"Your middle name is 'Nothing'?" Nick sucked his teeth. "Sorry, don't buy it. Say, do you have your wallet on you? I think Officer Wilde needs to see some ID," Nick looked like he was going to get out of his chair.
"Laverne, okay!?" Judy blurted, covering her eyes with her ears. "It's Laverne."
Nick chuckled uncontrollably. "Laverne? What?"
"Yes, and if anyone outside of Bunnyburrow gets wind of that, you're going to have two permanent bunny feet marks on your back," Judy sneered. Nick remained hunched over like he was going to move, but his jovial expression vanished, and his brow furrowed. Judy looked taken aback. "It... uh, it was just a joke, Nick." Nick didn't lighten up. He gazed intently at her face. Judy felt her pulse quicken and her nose start to twitch.
No, not this again... Judy chastised herself. She didn't fear Nick. She didn't. She was his best friend. Still, though, the twitching continued.
"Permanent marks, huh?" Nick said in a low, dangerous voice.
"Nick..." Judy looked confused, and she was still frightened. Judy let out a terse gasp as Nick's right paw touched her left cheek. Nick's expression was even as his thumb stroked over her cheek. Judy felt too confused and nervous to enjoy this. Her nose's twitching accelerated.
"So there they are, after all," Nick felt a few tiny little linear imperfections, hidden between the perfect-looking gray fur that covered her cheek. Judy was confused only for a few seconds longer, but then her nose stopped twitching and she looked away. "So, what's the deal, Carrots?"
"What, didn't he tell you how I got these scars?" Judy asked in an upset tone, keeping her head away from Nick, though she could still almost feel his gaze on her.
"No, he told me," Nick nodded. "But what I want to know is why you never told me. Especially because now, I retroactively feel like a complete idiot for acting the way I did at the press conference."
"Never had time to tell you," Judy turned her head around and glared at him defiantly. "It was never relevant."
"That's a load of fluff," Nick sneered. "What about the gondola? What about when I poured out my life story to you and you tried to fix it by patting me on the arm?"
"Yes, because I wanted that moment to be about me!" Judy shouted. "I wanted to take away from you finally bearing your soul to me by making it about me and my tragic past! Boo hoo, this poor little bunny got cut by a fox as a little kit, and that's why she's such a speciesist moron! No, Nick, I don't care that you just saved my job and that you've gone through some horrible experiences, it should be about me, too!"
Nick's expression suddenly softened. He sat back in his chair. "Judy, uh..."
"Oh, so you do remember what my first name is, huh?" Judy felt tears threatening to bubble forth. "I thought I heard you say it when we went over the waterfall, but I had a lot of water in my ears at the time!"
Nick looked away, ashamed. "If I had known... those three months we spent apart would never have happened." A few tears rolled down Judy's cheeks, and she stared upwards, trying to control herself as she sniffled.
"Did I ever blame you for what I did?" Judy asked softly. Nick shook his head. "That's right, I didn't. Because it was my fault. It was my mistake. It wasn't Gideon's, or yours."
"...Here," Nick said, taking out a familiar handkerchief and handing it to Judy. "Dry your eyes."
"Is this...?" Judy gave a shaky chuckle. "Nick, I'm not wiping my eyes with this thing, it's had my blood all over it!"
"I've washed it like a dozen times since then," Nick gave a light huff. "I'm pretty sure it's clean. But speaking of blood, your eyes are getting pretty red. Just... dry your eyes, okay...?" Judy did, sobbing a little into the handkerchief. She gave it a little, secret sniff. It smelled like the fox's fabric softener, and him.
"My eyes are red because of your shirt, it's making my eyes bleed," Judy gave a shaky chuckle, tossing Nick his handkerchief back. Nick scrambled to make sure he caught it.
"Well excuse me, bunny," Nick smirked at her. "You happen to look like a picnic table with that shirt on!"
"Are Nick and Judy fighting?" A concerned bunny voice came from behind the two.
"Hush now, I think they're just about done." That was Bonnie's voice.
Judy and Nick stared at each other, their eyes wide.
"Carrots, did they really hear all of that, do you think?" Nick grit his teeth.
"I'm going to say 'yes'," Judy cringed in a tiny voice, holding up her paw slightly. "I should have probably stormed off into the distance before we raised our voices."
"Well I'm glad you didn't," Nick smiled warmly with his eyes half-lid. "Wouldn't have wanted to have to go chase you. I'm on vacation, after all."
Judy felt her heart leap a bit at the thought of Nick chasing after her to apologize. "I definitely should have run. You're so lazy."
"But if you weren't so exhaustingly emotional, like you bunnies tend to be, this wouldn't have been such a big deal in the first place," Nick gave a wry smile.
"Wow, Nick," Judy gave him a dangerous smile. "You know I hate you, right?"
"If by 'hate', you mean 'love', then yeah, I might," Nick got up from the chair and headed to the door. Judy allowed herself a moment's daze as he said that word, then her ears perked up as Nick started to open the door.
"Nick, wait!" Judy warned, but it was too late. Six female bunnies surrounded and glomped onto Nick from all directions.
"You don't hate Judy, do you Nick?"
"Nick is it safe for the boys to come out yet?"
"Nick, you should say you're sorry to Judy."
"I'll never get used to how... clingy these bunnies are," Nick sighed, trying to very slowly move inside.
Judy sprang up and walked by Nick, jumping up next to him and quickly running her paw over his ears and head roughly before gravity took effect on her. "Sure hope not!"
One of Nick's eyebrows raised. He didn't know what she meant by that. He watched her form retreat into the compound. His eyes snapped to her tiny tuft tail for just a split second, and he felt a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach that he couldn't put a name to.
"Do you like Judy, Nick?" A female kit looked up at him with impossibly huge eyes.
"Of course," Nick said easily. "Now please remove yourselves from my handsome fox being-"
"Do you love Judy, Nick?" The same female interrupted.
"...Let's go inside, okay?" Nick said in a voice slightly higher than his usual register.
"You think that means 'yes'?" One of the girls gasped in delight.
Nick didn't think he'd ever want to return to work so badly in his life.