A/N I'm so sorry for the delay in this chapter. I was dragged into some fandom drama against my will that involved a close friend so I stepped back for a short while. I don't think we're talking anymore, which hurts because I miss her. Due to the drama though this story has been pulled from ZNN, however in order to ensure all my readers are catered for this will remain the clean version and the smut version will be over on A03. As I did before, I'll place an A/N on any chapter that has some smut so that you're informed about it and can decide which site to read on.

EDIT; it would seem that Safe Paws is back on ZNN. I was not made aware of its return to the site, and I've only found out about this because of a few reader comments in response to this chapter.

I also moved house and while my home is wonderful, I'm three days into living in my new place and homesickness has hit me hard. I'm struggling to focus and to sleep and eat properly. Churning out this chapter was a struggle, but I hope it's okay. I'm sorry again for the wait, I never wanted or planned to keep you all waiting. Hopefully, I'll be able to get the next chapter out quicker.

On a lighter note, a guest reviewer told me that they think Ed Sheeran's song Perfect is a good tune for this fic, and after listening to it I think I'm in love. Can that be this fic's anthem? Is that a thing?

The jingling of keys had Nick sitting up, abandoning his position on the sofa in favor of heading towards the front door. He'd caught an earlier train home, Major Friedkin having told him to leave once he'd finished breakfast. It was the end of October now, and Nick hadn't been home in months. He'd been dying to get back to the city, to his mate, and to his mom. He'd never been away for long before, and the distance had been slowly driving him crazy.

Leaving the academy earlier than planned had enabled the tod to head to Bunnyburrow first. Once there, he'd made his way to the main shopping street in the heart of the district. Picking up a few things for Judy, and one of Gideon's blueberry pies for himself, he'd then caught the Zootopia Express back to the city.

When the fox had made it home, he'd thrown the clothes from his bag into the washing machine and put the pie in the fridge. He'd organized the items he'd picked up for Judy, and had then walked around their apartment, taking in all the little changes. There were some more cushions made by his mom and some new kitchen utensils, but the biggest change had been in his bedroom. Nick had expected his scent to be strongest in the room, but instead, he was smothered by Judy's smell. The doe's pajamas were on his bed, her clothes over the chair in the corner of the room, and her dowel box and phone charger on his nightstand. The tod could've been mad that Judy was in his space and sleeping in his bed, yet it made his heart clench, features softening as he smiled.

Nick wore the same expression now as he watched Judy enter their home. She was oblivious to the fact he stood leaning against the door to the living room. Waiting, Nick watched in amusement as his doe removed her vest, letting it drop to the floor before she threw her keys into the little dish from Bonnie and Stu. It was her double take that made Nick's smile turn to a grin and had him snorting a laugh, Judy's eyes widening as she spotted his keys in the dish. Judy's head snapped sideways, large ears honing in on him as he chuckled at her expression. "Nick!" The tod found himself with an armful of gray bunny, Judy having launched herself at him in her excitement.

"Hey, Carrots." Nick clung to the rabbit in his arms, savoring the feeling of finally getting to hold her again after so long. They were still allowed their weekly phone calls, and Judy often sent him little care packages and letters, but nothing could beat the feeling of being home and being able to reach out and touch his mate.

Judy had known for a month now that Nick would be coming home for Halloween, and she'd been counting down the days ever since he'd informed her of Major Friedkin's decision to give him some time off. However, when they'd discussed trains, Nick had decided to catch the 4 pm Zootopia Express back to the city, to give him the morning and most of the afternoon to continue his training. That plan had seemingly gone to pot, but Judy was more than happy with the surprise of coming home to find Nick already waiting for her. "How're you home so early?"

"Friedkin let me go after breakfast." Nick had been surprised by the polar bear's kind offer, but he hadn't been so foolish as to protest. Though the tod had known that Judy would still be at work, having the opportunity to make a trip to Bunnyburrow and pick up supplies for his surprise had been too good to miss.

Pushing up onto the balls of her hind paws, Judy reached for her mate, looping her arms around his neck so she could pull him down, enabling her to plant a soft kiss on his lips. However, as she went to pull away, Nick refused to let her go. Giving in, as she'd missed getting to be so close to her fox, Judy gave herself over to him, body relaxing as she let him lead. The gentle press of lips and the sweet exploration of tongues had the doe whining, paws tightening in the slightly fluffier than before fur on the nape of Nick's neck. Winter was coming, and Judy couldn't wait for her fox to gain his seasonal coat. The feel of wandering paws had Judy's whine turning sharply into a gasp of surprise, sharp claws lightly pressing against delicate skin as Nick grasped her butt. "Remind me to send her a gift basket." The doe whispered against her mate's lips, pushing back into the tod's grasp, enjoying the way his large paws smothered her small frame.

A rumble of amusement made Nick's chest vibrate, and he pulled back enough to look down at his bunny. Emerald met violet, yet Nick refused to remove his paws from their position, cupping Judy's butt. "Speaking of gifts…" The tod licked his lips; nerves' setting in as he prayed what he was about to do was right. He'd done as much research as possible with the limited resources he had access to at the academy, and once Major Friedkin had handed him back his phone this morning, he'd done some Zoogling. "Close your eyes, please." He instructed, giving Judy's behind a gentle squeeze of encouragement.

Curious about what Nick had done, but trusting her mate implicitly, Judy closed her eyes. Nick took her paws in his own, giving her a gentle tug to get her walking. Keeping her steps light and her eyes closed, the doe let her fox lead her through their apartment and into the living room. Brought to a stop, Judy thought that Nick would let her go, but instead, he ran his paws up to her arms, stepping around, so he stood behind her. Strong arms wrapped around her waist and Judy brought her paws to rest over her mates, fingers lacing together. "Open your eyes." The soft whisper in one of her large ears made Judy shiver, a pleasant tingling sweeping down her spine at the tone of her mate's command.

Opening her eyes, Judy inhaled sharply. A beautiful large bouquet of dark red roses sat in a vase on the coffee table, and alongside the flowers were jars of candy and a small collection of dowels. Surprised, and confused as to why Nick had gone to such trouble, Judy's head tipped sideways, violet eyes taking in all of the romantic gifts. It wasn't her birthday, and it certainly wasn't Valentine's Day.

"Happy Courting Day," Nick whispered, unsure as to how his surprise was received. It was a rabbit custom, a sort of holiday for them. Courting Day was the primary day of the year for bucks to make their intentions known and declare an interest in the doe they wanted to pursue. They showered them with gifts and asked their family for permission to court them. Nick had been in two minds as to whether or not he would fully participate in the day. He'd considered picking up some flowers on the way home as Judy was already his, the bonding bracelet around her wrist a symbol of his intent, and Stu had already granted him permission to date Judy all those months ago on the back porch at Bunnyburrow. Judy had gone above and beyond for him, though, and had adapted to fox culture and customs. It was only fair for him to return the favor.

The additional time off he'd been granted had sealed the deal for Nick and had prompted him to go all out. He'd been the only fox in Bunnyburrow buying Courting Day gifts, and though he'd received a lot of stares and had heard some ugly words muttered in his direction, he'd ignored them all, focusing on picking out the best gifts for his doe.

Judy's dating history was still a mystery to Nick, something he knew he'd have to ask her about soon, so he wasn't entirely sure whether she'd experienced Courting Day before. If so, then Nick was grateful it hadn't worked out with whatever unlucky buck had tried to woo his bunny. If not, then Nick would get to be her first Courting Day suitor.

Ears drooping as the reason for Nick's surprise sank in, Judy was touched by his thoughtfulness. Courting Day had always been her least favorite holiday, the day of the year where she'd always felt left out. Few bucks had wanted to ask her father for permission to date her, and the ones that had even considered asking had been put off by Julian's overbearing need to ensure his littermates only dated the best of the bunch. Her brother meant well, but the doe hadn't been able to experience Courting Day like her friends and other sisters. "Oh, Nick." She sniffled, moved by the fact her mate had done some research and was partaking in elements of her culture.

"Please don't cry, sweetheart." Nick cooed, dropping a kiss on the top of Judy's head, still holding her. His grip was broken moments later though as Judy turned on the spot, small paws reaching up once again for the back of his neck as he was hauled down into a fiery kiss. A muffled noise of surprise left the tod at his mate's sudden passion, but he met the firm press of her lips with equal fervor. Nick swallowed the little mewls of happiness that Judy made as he wrapped his arms around her, paws sliding down to cup her butt and give him enough of a hold to lift her from the ground. Mouths still pressed together, Nick carried his bunny to the couch, struggling to remember where he was going as he was distracted by the gentle lick of Judy's small tongue against the seam of his lips. As Nick came to sit on the couch, his bunny came to rest straddling him, her paws leaving his neck to instead press against his chest, keeping him pinned in place.

Judy softened their kiss as she came to rest on her mate's lap, the demanding exploration of her lips and tongue slowing until she eventually pulled back. "Thank you." She whispered, more touched by Nick's actions than she'd anticipated. Though Judy had brushed off Courting Day, had forced herself to act like it hadn't bothered her when no buck had asked her father for permission to date her, the doe had still been hurt by the lack of interest shown in her. The fact Nick had gone out of his way to buy treats for her, her favorite dowels, and a bouquet of beautiful flowers only served as a reminder to her that all of those bucks in Bunnyburrow weren't worthy of her attention. Her fox had won her over without even trying.

Lifting a paw, Nick brushed a clawed thumb over Judy's cheek, enjoying the way she leaned into his touch, eyes closing as she turned and nuzzled his palm. "I guess it's kind of redundant considering we're already together and you're more than aware of my intentions." Emerald eyes moved to the bonding bracelet around Judy's wrist, the carrot and pawpsicle charms a reminder of how far they'd come in such a short space of time.

"It's not redundant." Judy murmured, eyes opening. Following Nick's gaze to her wrist, the doe smiled. "I still appreciate you going to all this effort for me." She turned to look over her shoulder at the table, taking in her surprise. "How did you know I like Candy Carrots?"

"Educated guess. You like candy and carrots, and you're my Carrots." Wincing at how corny his response was, Nick knew he couldn't take it back now. The snort of laughter from his bunny and the way she buried her snout against the fur sticking out from the open neck of his shirt as she chuckled made embarrassing himself worth it, though. In truth, Wolford had told him during one of their breaks in his training week that Judy kept a bag of Candy Carrots in her desk drawer, and had stuffed a little packet of them in her belt for when they were walking the beat or stuck in the cruiser watching mammals and traffic.

Twisting, Judy reached behind her for some of the candy. Grabbing a pawful she turned back around, feeding one to her fox before taking one for herself. Seeing the amusement on Nick's face, and the pleasant surprise, as he tasted Candy Carrots for the first time, made Judy grin. They worked their way through her pawful of treats, enjoying being back in one another's company until Judy ran out of candy. Resting their foreheads together, Judy's chin tucked perfectly into the curve of Nick's snout. Eyes closed, Judy let the feelings of love and appreciation roll over her and consume her. It felt like the tide lapping at the shore, caressing the sand, soothing her soul.

Nick offered Judy calmness, peacefulness in the stormy sea of life. Mr. Big had been right all those months ago – he was her safe harbor. With all the chaos of work and the closing of the cases regarding Catstro and his gang, Judy hadn't had the chance to unwind. She hadn't been able to stop and appreciate the fact that what had happened hadn't come back to bite her on the butt, and it was all because of the tod whose lap she was sat in. The lengths Nick had gone to to ensure she wouldn't suffer more than necessary still astounded her.

Judy knew it was silly to become so emotional over Nick wanting to give her Courting Day, but the fact her mate had bothered to look into it, had gone out and picked her favorite things and surprised her with them when no one else had bothered before, made her want to cry. Judy knew Nick was it for her, that there would never be anyone else, and it had prompted her to set in motion plans for his Christmas present. The doe was aware of her fox's jealousy issues, and though he'd asked her to arrange for them to have dinner with Akita and Bandit this evening so he could try and tackle it, Judy had taken matters into her own paws too. She knew she needed to help Nick, to prove once and for all that no mammal would ever succeed in driving her away from him. Her Christmas gift would hopefully do that.

Ever since the Catstro mess Judy had started to try and make smarter decisions, decisions that took into consideration her fox and his feelings, decisions that would hopefully be right in the long-term and wouldn't come back to bite them. It was tough, but Judy knew now that her life wasn't just her own anymore. Her life was more interesting now, enriched, and work was no longer the only focus for her. It had crossed her mind on more than one occasion that though she'd wanted to be a cop to make the world a better place, a higher being pushed her onto the path. After all, if she hadn't of pursued her dream she never would've met Nick.

Nick had never liked silence. Silence during a conversation was awkward, silence during a business deal meant he'd probably messed up, silence from his mom meant he was in trouble, and silence gave his mind the opportunity to walk down paths he didn't like to travel. However, the silence he found himself in with Judy was different than the rest. Her small weight was settled in his lap, her paws on him, her forehead against his. The little puffs of her breath ruffled his fur, the rising and falling of her chest giving him a rhythm to match, and her scent soothed him. Combined, it was calming, which was something Nick had never anticipated from silence before.

Though no words had been exchanged, Nick felt the depth of Judy's love, and he hoped she could feel his in return. It was exhilarating and scary, fulfilling and intense all at once. Wolford's words still rattled around the tod's head. He'd been able to give something back to Judy, to provide her with something in return. The gray bunny in his lap had never been part of his plan, Nick had never afforded himself the luxury of thinking about a future with a mate, but looking at it now he couldn't help but wonder if his life had turned out the way it had so that he would cross paths with her. They'd become inseparable – a fox and a rabbit. The thought almost made Nick snort, but the silence was too blissful to break. He couldn't stop his smile though at the realization that some being out there, be them fate or destiny, had decided that the over-enthusiastic country bunny in his arms was his soul mate.

Soul mate.

The tod's brain honed in on those two words, and his next actions were instinctual, driven by the primal part of his species that had been suppressed for hundreds of years as foxes had tried to become more civilized, to fit in with the changing world. Moving his head, Judy's chin slipped from his snout, but before she could complain or pull back, Nick brought his muzzle to the side of her face, rubbing over soft gray fur, leaving his scent on her. He didn't expect anything back from her, knew in the more rational part of his mind that it was a risk to muzzle her without talking about it first, but instincts drove him, and he succumbed to them happily. Eyes still closed, the fox savored the way Judy pressed back into his muzzling, and underneath the sound of their shared breathing he could pick up on the slow grinding of her tooth purring.

Heart clenching as Nick muzzled her, Judy began to grind her back teeth, consumed with love for her fox as he claimed her. Giving him time to smother her in his scent properly, Judy brought her paws to Nick's snout, gently stopping his motion. Lifting her chin, Judy brought it to rest on the bridge of Nick's nose, and with a gentle motion, she started to rub, chinning her fox, smothering him in her scent in return. Her mom had instilled in her the importance of chinning, how much of a sacred act it was, and though she and Nick were not lost in the throes of passion, and there was no ring on her finger, it felt like the right moment to mark him.

As realization set in as to what Judy was doing, Nick's tail thumped happily against the couch, a low purr vibrating through his body. Judy's scent flooded his nostrils, and he tightened his hold on her. "I love you." Nick breathed, the thumping of his tail slowing to a gentle flick, the fluffy appendage swishing around to wrap around his mate.

Satisfied that Nick was suitably marked, that her instincts and desire had been sated, his words made the doe smile, and she pulled back enough to dip down and press a sweet kiss to his lips. "I love you too." She whispered back, moving to snug against his chest, tucking herself under his snout, comfortably wrapped up in his arms and tail.

Content, Nick and Judy sat together in comfortable silence for a while, focusing on the sound of one another's breathing and heartbeats. It was Judy who eventually broke the silence, voice soft and soothing, not quite ready for the moment to end but knowing they had other plans. "We need to prepare for dinner soon."

"I know." Nick sighed, not wanting the moment to end. They still had time before they were due to meet Akita and Bandit at Misty's on the Vine, in the Rainforest District. Though Nick had asked Judy to arrange dinner for the four of them, he couldn't help but feel nervous. This evening would give him the chance to see Akita and Bandit together, to give him peace of mind that the arctic fox wasn't trying to take his bunny from him. The tod also hoped he'd have the opportunity to speak with the other fox on the quiet, to sort through his feelings and jealousy. Judy's scent surrounded him, clung to his fur, and he glanced to the bracelet around her wrist. He didn't have anything to worry about; he was just irrational. Wanting to change the topic, Nick settled on work. "How's the case?" When he'd last called there had been some exciting developments in The Cloven Hoof shooting, but as Judy was only drip-fed information she hadn't had much to share with him.

Pulling back enough so that she could look into the emerald eyes she loved, Judy's paws came to rest on Nick's chest, rising and falling with his breath, feeling the thudding of his heartbeat under her palm. "They found Catstro's body two days ago. He's been officially declared dead. COD was drowning." The information wasn't new to either of them, and it hadn't taken long for the ME to reach her conclusion. The call had come in an hour after role call, and Chief Bogo had taken a team out to Tundratown. She'd been called into his office shortly after his return and had been delivered the news that Catstro's body had been found in a snowdrift.

"What about the rest of his gang? Any update?" The news of the shooting had been troubling the fox since Judy had filled him in on her attendance at the scene. The Cloven Hoof was known for its criminal clientele. Nick had been forced to enter the establishment a few times for business, and every time he'd felt the urge to bathe in bleach afterward. Lacking cameras and a morally righteous owner, The Cloven Hoof was the perfect place for dodgy dealings.

Nodding, Judy remembered her meeting with Chief Bogo this morning. "Money. They were all trying to find Catstro's stash of money. They thought Marcus had taken it given he was the accountant, which is likely why he was killed first. The team on the case found encrypted messages on their phones, and they all suspected one another of taking the cash and trying to hide it. Chief thinks it all came to a head when they met up at The Cloven Hoof and it disintegrated into the shootout." Chief Bogo had gone on to discuss the money and the fact that it now presented them with another case. It wasn't high on the priority list, though. They had no idea how much money there was, no clues as to where to look, and Bogo felt like there were more pressing matters than a few grand of missing cash. They'd look into it because they had to, but Chief Bogo had sounded ready to wash his hooves of Catstro, his gang, and their mess. Judy had breathed a sigh of relief once the cape buffalo had dismissed her, knowing the money in Nick's deposit box had been part of Catstro's stash.

"They say that money is the root to the evilest ways." Given how hungry Catstro and his gang had been for Nick's money every month, it didn't surprise the tod that they'd all met their demise while chasing it. It did leave him with one question, though. "What happened to the money then, if none of them had it?"

Lifting a finger, Judy extracted herself from Nick's grasp, reluctantly leaving the safety of her mate's arms and tail. Slipping from the couch, Judy headed in the direction of her room, casting a glance over her shoulder to find a confused expression on her fox's handsome face. Grabbing the silver metal briefcase she'd stashed under her bed, Judy returned to the living room. She'd gone to collect half of the deposit box money yesterday in preparation for Nick coming home, doing as he asked all those months ago. Hoisting up the case, Judy let it come to rest on Nick's lap, her fox quirking an eyebrow as he took it in while Judy scrambled up to sit sideways next to him so she could watch. "You asked me to withdraw half of the money in the safety deposit box for your mom."

Staring at the briefcase on his lap, Nick chuckled. It was a little bit overkill for a few thousand dollars. He could only imagine how sketchy Judy had looked leaving the bank with it. "Fluff, an envelope would've sufficed, there was no need to buy a briefcase for it."

Rolling her eyes, Judy pushed out one of her hind paws, knocking Nick's leg. "Just open it. 0327." She told him the code, teeth sinking into her lower lip in a combination of excitement and concern. How would Nick react to what was inside? When Judy had left the bank, she'd booked a Zuber rather than walking, not wanting to be out on the street with so much cash on her.

Smiling at the fact that the code was his birthday, Nick entered the four-digit number into the lock on the side of the briefcase. It released with a clunk as he entered the last digit, and his large paws grasped at the metal. Nick lifted the lid and emerald eyes found the cash inside. "Holy…" Nick slammed the lid shut, eyes wide and heart thudding as he tried to process what he'd just seen. Gaze turning to Judy, he gestured to the briefcase with a tip of his head. "This…?" He swallowed. "Half?" Nick squeaked, disbelief marring his face.

"There was $300,000 in the box." Judy dropped the proverbial bomb, and if the subject weren't so serious, she would've laughed at Nick's reaction.

Jaw dropping and eyebrows shooting up, a whine of distress and shock slipped past Nick's lips before he could stop it. $300,000. That wasn't possible. "I only borrowed $200,000. I only paid that much back." Why was there so much in his deposit box? What was Mr. Big playing at?

Hearing her mate's distress spurred Judy into action, and the doe moved to kneel next to Nick, paws finding his arm, which she rubbed soothingly. "I know. I asked Mr. Big why there was so much and he told me everything was fine, that you should just enjoy it."

Emerald eyes still locked with violet ones, Nick was at a loss. Money. He had money. Lots of it. "That means there's $150,000 in this case." Nick let out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding as Judy nodded in confirmation. Paws shaking, Nick returned his focus to the briefcase, carefully lifting the lid again. $150,000 sat in his lap. His mom would be comfortable; she could give up her job and do something she loved instead, work somewhere that respected her. Though the amount of money would help his mom immensely, it gave Nick another problem. "Mom's going to want to know where I got this kind of money from. I can't make up some savings or something that dad had like I did before."

Judy didn't want to push, didn't want to force Nick and get him to talk when he wasn't ready, but this was a golden opportunity for him to finally confess to his mom, to let her know about everything that had happened to him since he'd left home as a kit. Judy knew it would be hard on Marian, that the vixen would probably cry or go into shock, but the longer Nick hid it from her, the more painful it would be. Keeping such huge secrets from the mammal who'd raised him and loved him unconditionally wasn't healthy. "Maybe it's time to tell her some of it?" The doe spoke softly, careful to keep her voice neutral. This was Nick's decision to make, and whatever he chose Judy would respect that, even if she didn't agree.

The suggestion didn't catch Nick off guard as it had several months ago. Back then; the thought of telling his mom had been preposterous. She hadn't needed to know, and Nick had wanted to keep it that way. His mom wasn't going to take $150,000 from him though without grilling him about where it came from. He could say he won the lottery or that he won some money betting? That a friend had died and left him his fortune? Nick shook his head. He couldn't lie to her. The tod had spent the last twenty years lying and conning, living up to the stereotypes of his species. He was trying to be more honest now, and though it was a slow process with the occasional bump in the road, Nick knew his mom deserved the whole truth. Perhaps it was time. "I guess I could tell her some of it. I could tell her how I paid off the mortgage and that I was working jobs for years to pay it off. I won't tell her what jobs though, or where I was living. That would be too much for her. I don't want to overload her all at once." He made his decision.

Paws still rubbing Nick's arm, Judy gave the limb a gentle squeeze. "I'll stay with you while you tell her if you want." The doe offered, not wanting her mate to have to face this hurdle alone. Nick's sharp nod made Judy swallow. The conversation wouldn't be pretty, but she wouldn't abandon her fox. "How are we going to explain that you suddenly have $150,000 to give to her?"

"The mammal I was paying back died, and as he had no next of kin an executive decision was made that I should receive the funds," Nick suggested, opting for the truth. "It's going to crush her." He whispered, emerald eyes taking in the mountain of cash in the briefcase. Nick didn't want to hurt his mom, didn't want to disappoint her, and didn't want to see the regret in her eyes. The possibility of hurting the mammal that had brought him into the world, who'd given so much to him and loved him with every fiber of her being, was soul destroying.

Though the doe knew Marian well, she still couldn't predict how she would react. All she could do at present was try to offer her mate some comfort, and then stand by his side when it came time to bite the bullet. "It might, but it might also bring you closer together. Your mom will probably be angry and upset at first, it'll be a lot for her, but she'll come around, and she'll realize that you did it all because you love her and you wanted to protect her. You only had the best intentions going into it. She's your mom, Nick. No matter what she'll always love you."

Closing the lid of the briefcase, Nick took a deep breath. Judy was right. He'd gone into this with good intentions, the hope of freeing his mom from her worries, and for her to live a much more comfortable life. What was done was done, and all Nick could do now was come clean and hope for the best. "You're right. Thank you." With the briefcase locked he turned his head to look at his mate, and the mixture of concern and love on her beautiful face gave him strength. "Come on, we should get ready for dinner."

Misty's on the Vine was an impressive restaurant. Located in the Rainforest District, it had been in business for over 45 years. Though open 24 hours a day, the popularity of the place meant booking a table was highly recommended. Judy had booked in for 7:30 pm, and even with the distractions once she'd come home from work, she and Nick were still on time. Judy had decided to wear another of Marian's creations, this time a pretty yellow dress that fell to her knees. The neckline was straight across, the halter straps that tied around her neck kept the dress up, and it was clinched at the waist with a sash of yellow ribbon.

Nick had decided to ditch his usual Pawaiian print shirts this evening in favor of a plain light blue one. Teamed with dark jeans, his clothes were comfortable yet suitable for dinner at Misty's. When Judy had emerged from her bedroom after changing, Nick's mouth had gone dry. The way the dress hugged her waist and hips was sinful, and the halter straps that were tied in a little bow at the nape of her neck were just asking to be undone. He'd kept a firm hold on her paw as they'd caught the train to the Rainforest District, eyes narrowing at any male that stole a second glance at his mate.

Still holding paws, they entered the restaurant. "Hi, I have a table booked for four under the name Hopps." Judy offered the racoon behind the podium a smile.

The raccoon flipped through the reservation book, finding the correct name and the note attached to it. "Your other two guests have already arrived. If you'll follow me please, I'll show you to your table." The raccoon picked up two more menus before leading the fox and rabbit to the booth where their friends had been waiting for a couple of minutes.

Spotting their landlady sat in a booth, Nick's gaze soon traveled to the mammal by her side. "Bandit." The arctic fox was exactly as Judy had described, with a black band of fur across his eyes and the rest of his coat pure white. What caught Nick's attention the most, though, was the way the other tod was lost in conversation with Akita. They were snuggled together on one side of the booth, Akita closest to the wall while Bandit sat on the outside, body angled towards the amur leopard, leaning forward a little into her space. His left arm lay along the back of the booth and though he was much smaller than the feline, Bandit still managed to make himself seem large and imposing, shielding the big cat. From an outsider's perspective, the canine and feline enamored. It wasn't enough to convince Nick, though. He knew foxes, knew how they operated and how many of them weren't afraid to live their lives playing to their stereotypes. He still didn't believe that the arctic fox wasn't interested in his mate.

"Akita!" Judy grinned, overjoyed at seeing her landlady after so long. With the craziness of her work and Akita's recent trip back to the Old World, the two mammals hadn't had the chance to catch up in a while.

"Judy." The amur leopard's attention left her boyfriend as Nick and Judy approached. Her position penned in against the wall meant she was unable to embrace her rabbit friend, but as Judy slid into the booth opposite her, and Nick took up the position on the outside of the booth, Akita offered her paw across the table.

Taking the felines paw in her own, Judy gave it a squeeze. Akita's paw swamped hers, and the big cat's size meant the doe didn't have to worry about hurting her with her greeting. "Bandit." Judy turned and greeted the arctic fox with the same warm cheerfulness, offering her paw out to him.

The tod took Judy's offered paw, giving it a gentle squeeze before he let go, very aware of the hard green eyes focused on him. This was Bandit's first time meeting Nick, and though Judy had shown him enough photos to last a lifetime, and the arctic fox was pretty certain he now knew every funny story regarding the other tod, he had the distinct impression that the red fox opposite him would be on edge all evening. Bandit didn't want to risk ruining the relationship between the fox and rabbit should Nick take his friendly affection as being anything more than that, which is why he offered the same paw out to Nick. "Bandit Whitmaw." He introduced himself formally, though the tod was certain that Nick already knew a lot about him.

The instinctual drive to rip Judy's paw out of Bandit's surprised Nick and the tod forced down the feeling as much as possible. Instead, Nick slipped back behind his con-mammal mask. Shoulders dropping and lazy grin in place, the red fox took the offered paw, giving it a firm shake. "Nick Wilde." Flicking his tail up, Nick let it come to rest across Judy's lap, staking his claim. Bandit's eyes followed the movement, and when their gazes finally met again, the red fox pulled his paw back as he quirked an eyebrow.

Amused by Nick's possessiveness, Bandit weighed up the pros and cons of tormenting the red fox. It was tempting, the darker side of him wanting nothing more than to mess with Nick, especially after the stunt he'd pulled with Judy's bonding bracelet, but Akita had made him promise to be on his best behavior, and the arctic fox never broke the promises he made to his girlfriend. "I hear you're currently training to become an officer, like Judy."

Unsure as to how much of his life Judy had shared, Nick simply nodded. He prayed that Judy hadn't told Bandit too much, if only because he didn't trust the other tod. "You heard right. I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, though. What is it you do?" Nick tipped his head a little, curious about the arctic fox's background. Judy hadn't been very forthcoming with any information.

"I work in medicine." Bandit was proud of his job and how hard he'd worked to get to where he currently was. It hadn't been easy, and even to this day there were still the occasional few patients who didn't want to be tended to by a fox, but he was quickly earning a strong reputation at Savannah General. He'd moved around the city's hospitals during his career, trying to get a feel as to where he fitted in the best, and he was hedging his bets on his current placement.

Nose wrinkling, Nick felt a little irritated with the other fox's career path. He'd been hoping that Bandit would have an awful job, that it would give Nick something to feel better about. "I didn't think they let us become doctors." Nick let the barb slip, his displeasure at finding out that Bandit was well educated with a good job difficult to conceal.

"And I didn't think they let us become cops, and yet here we are." The arctic fox shot back, not liking Nick's tone.

Scowling, Nick was about to respond when the peppy server interrupted, asking for their drinks order. Sighing, Nick sat back, letting Judy go first. His doe opted for elderflower wine, and Akita decided to try it with her. Bandit punted for water, explaining that he was on-call with Savannah General should they need an extra set of paws. Nick tried his hardest not to roll his eyes at the information. He was meant to be trying to work things out with the arctic fox, after all. When it came to Nick's turn, the tod decided to go with something a bit stronger than his fellow mammal's, having a feeling it would be needed if he had to spend longer in Bandit's company. "Bourbon. Wild Turkey if you have it, please." With a nod, their server left to get their drinks, and the feel of small paws on his tail had Nick shuddering, turning his head to look sideways at his mate. Judy was gently stroking his tail, wide violet eyes blinking up at him. Offering her a gentle smile as he tried to push down the feelings of pleasure from her stroking, the tod threw his arm around her, across the back of the booth.

Though Judy knew it was dangerous to be stroking Nick's tail out in public, given the reaction it pulled from him, the doe wanted to soothe her fox. She could tell that he was on edge, that he was uncomfortable with their current situation. Nick's con-mammal mask was back in place, after all. He was being silly, throwing his tail over her lap and his arm around her, posturing and staking his claim, but Judy indulged him in this instance and let him get away with it. Meeting Bandit was a huge step for Nick, and though so far it hadn't gone as well as she'd hoped, at least they hadn't killed one another.

"How is your training going, Nick?" Akita turned her focus to the red fox. The last she'd heard, everything had been going well for the tod, though he'd been forced into taking extra classes with Judy's temporary partner. Akita had met Wolford a few times when he'd dropped Judy off at various restaurants across the city after their shift, so she and the doe could get dinner together. The timber wolf had always been polite to her, and his care for Judy was evident. The server returned with their drinks, setting them down for them before leaving them for a while longer.

Reaching for his glass, Nick took a sip of his drink, enjoying the sweet vanilla notes that complimented the oakiness of the liquor. Relaxing a little more with his mate's paws on him, the tip of Nick's tail flicked happily. "It's going well, thank you." When his week with Wolford had come to an end, Major Friedkin had asked for a demonstration to show Nick's progress. He and Wolford had sparred for a while, and the tod had been able to pin the wolf a few times. Pleased with his progress, Major Friedkin had signed off his week of training and Wolford had returned to the city. Since then, Nick had made it his personal goal to spar with some of his fellow cadets at least twice a week in the evenings. Randon had been his first partner, matched regarding size with Wolford, and then Nick had entered the ring with Tony. The tiger had played dirty and had bested him for a while, but once Nick had been able to identify the big cat's weak points, he'd utilized them to bring him down. The tod was yet to face Horton; he was working himself up to it as he knew that would be the hardest sparring session.

"Nick's modest. He's on course to be valedictorian." Judy interrupted, grinning at her fox with pride. She'd always believed in him, and seeing him thrive and succeed was the most incredible thing to witness. He'd gone from thinking little of himself and his situation, to bettering himself and his situation. Nick shrugged off her praise, though Judy didn't miss the small quirking at the corner of his lips.

"You'll probably end up on parking duty first." Bandit threw a barb back at Nick, still feeling a little salty that the other tod had tried to belittle his occupation and status. Judy had told him all about her first day on the force and the 201 tickets she'd written before noon, and Bandit crossed his fingers Nick would find himself in a ridiculous high visibility vest putting tickets on cars too.

Shaking his head, Nick didn't bother to hide his smirk. "I doubt that. Carrots is going to be my partner, and Chief won't want her on parking duty." Though Judy and Wolford had been given patrol work since Nick's enrollment at the academy, the tod had a feeling that Bogo was itching to get Judy back onto cases soon. She'd solved both the missing mammals and the night howler cases with ease and in a short space of time. Walking the beat wasn't the best use of her talents, and neither was parking duty.

Though Akita had known that Nick and Judy would be working in the same precinct, she hadn't been aware that they would be partners. "They allow those romantically involved to work together?" She questioned, gaze shifting between Nick and Judy. She knew in most professions that rules and regulations were in place to deal with relationships in the workplace.

"Mhm. So long as one isn't superior to the other, it's fine." Judy had breathed a huge sigh of relief when she'd discovered that her relationship with Nick wouldn't stop them from being able to work together. They would have to keep their paws to themselves while on the clock as the last thing Judy wanted was to be caught in a compromising situation with her mate and have to be disciplined by Chief Bogo.

Offering Judy a soft smile, Nick moved his arm around Judy so that he could gently stroke the back of her head, shifting a hind paw to knock it against one of hers. "You're superior to me though, Fluff."

"Still just an officer." The doe shrugged, letting go of Nick's tail long enough to reach for her wine and take a sip. Elderflower wine had been her first drink as a teenager, and the doe was extremely fond of it.

As Judy placed her glass back down, Nick chuckled. His mate could be clueless sometimes. "That's not what I meant." He smiled in amusement as the real meaning finally sank in, the inside of his rabbit's ears turning a light shade of pink as they dropped with her embarrassment.

Feeling flustered, Judy let her paws fall back to Nick's tail, giving her something else to focus on other than her raging blush. "Don't be silly." She whispered, stealing a glance up at her mate, unable to stop her smile as she saw the fondness in Nick's gaze. Every time he looked at her with such warmth the doe wondered what she'd done to deserve such a loving mate.

"You two will give me cavities." Akita shook her head fondly, finding the rabbit and fox adorable. When she had first shown them around the apartment, she'd had a sneaky feeling that something would happen between them, but it had taken a little longer than she'd anticipated. The amur leopard had worried that once they'd come to their senses and started a relationship, they would no longer need a two bedroom apartment and would move out, but that hadn't been the case, and Akita couldn't be more grateful. They were her best tenants, never asking for anything and always paying their rent on time. The tenants in her other properties continually gave her headaches.

Silently watching Nick and Judy interact, Bandit couldn't deny that there was chemistry between them, but he couldn't help but feel disgruntled with the other fox for the way he'd handled the bonding bracelet issue. When the arctic fox had first seen it around Judy's wrist he'd been surprised, curious, and a little concerned. The acceptance of a bonding bracelet was a huge deal, so when Judy had started asking questions about it, apparently not understanding its true meaning, Bandit had been furious with Nick, though he'd refrained from saying anything as it hadn't been his place.

All four mammals fell silent as they started to peruse the menu, and when their server returned they were ready to order. Judy went first and opted for the veggie pizza, Akita settled on the salmon pasta, Bandit decided on the cricket cassoulet, and Nick ordered the beetle burger.

Once their orders had been taken and the server had left, Nick turned his focus to the other tod. "So, Bandit. Remind me again how you met Judy?" Nick trusted his mate and her version of events, but he wanted to test the other fox's honesty.

Taking a sip of his water, Bandit lifted an eyebrow at Nick's question. An uneasy feeling settled in the arctic fox's gut as he felt like he was being tested. "The supermarket. She looked alone and lost in the predator aisles, so I stepped in to help." He could remember the day like it was only yesterday. It had been quite the sight to see a small rabbit wandering through the predator aisles, basket in one paw and a scowl on her face.

Annoyed that the stories matched up and he wouldn't be able to call Bandit out, Nick wrinkled his nose. "How noble of you."

"I'm always happy to help a lady in need." Bandit relaxed against the back of the booth, silently enjoying how he was able to get under Nick's skin so easily. It was a little cruel of him perhaps, but the other fox hadn't given him the chance to show that he was a good mammal. Instead, he'd acted like every other mammal and judged him before getting to know him.

Eyes narrowing, Nick's free paw clenched under the table, oblivious to the concern on Judy's face as she looked between the two males. "I bet you are."

"Akita, how was your trip home?" Judy picked the first topic that came to mind, biting on her lower lip. The tension in the air could be cut with a knife, and Judy knew that she needed to steer the topic of conversation away from anything that could lead to Nick and Bandit coming to blows. Giving Nick's tail a warning squeeze, she slapped on a smile. The end of her mate's tail stopped flicking with her squeeze, and Judy felt momentarily pleased that he'd been suitably chastised.

A wistful smile crossed Akita's lips as she remembered home. Though Zootopia was beautiful and she was feeling more and more at ease in the city as time went on, nothing would ever replace her homeland. "It was wonderful, thank you. Zussia this time of year is perfect. It's just starting to get cold, and all the leaves turn beautiful shades of orange and red. We have plenty of public holidays too, and the streets are filled with mammals. We had Unity Day before I came back, where we celebrate the peaceful existence between predator and prey. There was singing and dancing, a parade and a talent show." The leopard loved all of the traditions of her home and always took part in them when she was able to. This year she'd been on one of the floats, dancing with some of her old friends. She was sure there were photos of it flying around on Furbook. "You should visit the Old World soon!" Akita still had her family home in Zussia, and she was more than happy for Nick and Judy to borrow it anytime they wanted. The crossing to the Old World was much easier now, with regular ships and planes across the ocean; the only downside was how expensive the trip could be.

Nick had never ventured to the Old World. As much as he'd wanted to follow in his Grandfather's footsteps, he'd never had the means to do so. Now, though, with $150,000 sitting in a deposit box he could explore the world with his doe and see everything their planet had to offer.

"That would be incredible. I've always wanted to travel. Up for it, Slick?" Judy nudged her mate, noting the distant look in his eyes.

Jolted from his thoughts, the tod offered Judy a smile. If she wanted to travel, then he'd take her travelling. "Sure, sounds like fun."

The arrival of their meals stopped the conversation from going any further, and all four mammals fell silent while they ate. "Is it good?" Judy whispered at Nick, nodding her head at his food. When Wolford had returned from the academy, Judy had asked how the food was there, and whether Nick had appeared to be enjoying it. The timber wolf had told her that Nick was eating fine, though one day he'd simply pushed his dinner around the plate as if he hadn't been interested in it.

Judy's concern about his eating habits was endearing, but the doe did not need to worry anymore. Nick was doing better with his food; he was enjoying it more and finding his appetite growing. There were occasional days where food held no interest to him, but they were few and far between now. "It's great, Fluff. Best burger I've had in years." Nick reassured his bunny, offering her a smile.

"Yeah?" Judy couldn't stop her need to double-check, pausing with her fork halfway up to her mouth.

Though Nick could feel Akita and Bandit's eyes on them, he ignored them in favor of reassuring his mate. Nodding, he made sure he held Judy's gaze so she would understand that he was being honest. "I'm enjoying it." He kept his response short and sweet; cryptic enough so that Akita and Bandit wouldn't know what they were talking about, but a strong enough response to ensure Judy would understand and let it go. The dropping of her shoulders and the smile she offered Nick before she carried on eating prompted Nick to return to his own food.

When their plates were clear, and the server had returned to take them away, they were presented with the dessert menu. "Oh before we move on to dessert, I need the little kitten's room." Akita excused herself, eyes swiveling to Judy. When Judy had called her to arrange dinner, the amur leopard had suggested that the two ladies leave the table for a short while to allow their mates to chat. Akita had read Bandit the riot act before they'd arrived, so the feline had no concerns that her mate would cause a scene with Nick.

Catching on, Judy felt a little nervous leaving Nick alone with Bandit, but the two tods needed to work a few things out without the ladies present. Judy trusted Nick, but she knew he wasn't always in control of his emotions now that he was getting back in touch with them. "Me too." Judy excused herself, deciding to go ahead and give Nick and Bandit the opportunity to talk alone.

Nick and Bandit moved, letting their mates out of the booth. The red fox found it a little suspicious that both ladies needed the bathroom at the same time, but then every female he'd ever known had always taken another mammal with her to the bathroom like they were incapable of going alone or it was some strange female tradition. As Judy and Akita crossed the restaurant, Nick watched his mate's tail bob with every step she took.

"You've muzzled her." Bandit broke the silence, knowing full well his mate had left on purpose. Akita was smart, but Bandit hadn't gotten to where he was without learning a thing or two.

Gaze shifting from the door of the ladies bathroom to the tod sat opposite him, Nick let his lazy grin settle into place. "She's chinned me."

"I know. I can smell it." The moment the rabbit and fox had sat down Bandit had inconspicuously inhaled, and the blending of their scents were more apparent now. "I was never interested in her." The tod took advantage of the fact they were alone, playing into his leopard's plan. "I can tell you don't like me, probably think I'm too friendly with your mate, but she's not my type."

Lifting an eyebrow, Nick scoffed. "Not your type?" The red fox found that hard to believe. Judy was smart and beautiful, strong and passionate. What wasn't there to love about her? She was the complete package.

"I have nothing against pred/prey pairings, they're just not for me. Judy is one heck of a rabbit, but I genuinely wanted to help her in the grocery store, contrary to what you might think." Bandit happily offered up the information. The fox sat on the other side of the booth to him came across as a little insecure, if his possessive tail flick was anything to go by, and Bandit knew he'd have to go out all to convince the tod that he wasn't a threat.

Not entirely convinced, Nick appraised the arctic fox, needing more information. "And why did you help a complete stranger, other than apparently liking to save damsels in distress?"

Sighing, Bandit adopted the tone of voice he usually reserved for his nervous patients. Nick very much reminded him of them. "Have you ever seen a prey mammal, let alone a rabbit, down any of the predator aisles in your whole life?" It was unheard of, and Judy's lost expression as she'd tried to figure out what to buy had prompted Bandit to go and ask her if she needed help. Finding out she was shopping for her predator friend had amused the arctic fox, and he'd admired her for the guts it had taken to venture into the predator aisles.

Shaking his head, Nick couldn't say he'd ever seen a prey mammal in the predator aisles before. However, it was mainly due to Nick's lack of time spent in supermarkets. They weren't as easy as street stalls to steal from, and when he'd had some change for food he'd purchased from street stalls too due to how cheap they were.

"I think it took less than a minute for her to mention you. Since then its been a litany of 'Nick this' and 'Nick that' and 'this one time, Nick and I…' so even if I were interested, I'd have got the hint by now. Besides, you were quick to put a bonding bracelet around her wrist." At first, Bandit hadn't noticed how much Judy spoke about Nick, but after knowing the doe for several months now; he could safely say that the red fox was her favourite topic of conversation. "It was kind of underpawed of you."

Caught off guard by Bandit's comment, Nick narrowed his eyes. "I don't know what you mean." True the tod had wanted Judy to wear something that would keep other canines away while he was at the academy, but he'd genuinely wanted to commit that fully to her too.

Leaning forward, the arctic fox let his arms rest on the table, eyes focused on the other tod. He wouldn't mince his words. "You gave her the most valuable gift a canine can bestow on another, a gift that caused a lot of trouble for her, and you didn't even do her the decency of telling her what it meant."

Uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation, Nick tried to brush off Bandit's words. He'd already been chastised by his mom and then Judy once he'd told her about the bracelet's true meaning, he didn't need Bandit joining in. "She didn't need to know. All she needed to know was that I love her and that I wanted her to have it."

Watching Nick squirm was fascinating, and though Bandit knew it was cruel to prolong the other tod's suffering, he also knew it had been cruel of Nick to keep Judy in the dark. The doe had been confused, angry, and off balance without answers. The fact neither he nor her timber wolf partner could give her any answers had been painful. "I'm sure she enjoyed not knowing what it meant when she was being called a predo and being harassed by mammal's who thought their way of thinking was just and righteous."

"She knows what it means now, which is the important thing." Nick knew he'd messed up by not telling her the true meaning of her bracelet right away, and he'd apologized to her for it, but it didn't take away from the fact that it had been given with all of his love.

When Judy had returned from her weekend in Bunnyburrow reeking of Nick, and with a large grin on her face, Bandit had wanted to smack the tod for taking so long to come clean with the bracelet's real meaning. "That doesn't negate the fact that you purposefully didn't tell her about it because, and I'm going to go out on a limb here, you were scared."

Rolling his eyes, Nick crossed his arms over his chest, frowning at the arctic fox as he tried to sink further back into the booth seat. "We can only give one in our lifetime, so of course I was scared."

Barking out a laugh, Bandit shook his head. The other fox's denial was hilarious. "No. You weren't scared about gifting to her, other than perhaps worrying if she'd like it. You were scared of your feelings, of her feelings too. You were afraid it would be thrown back in your face, and you would be hurt." Watching as Nick went to protest, the arctic fox cut him off. "I work closely with a whole group of medically and psychiatrically trained mammal's, Nick. You pick up a thing or two by being friends with them. For example, you have the trademark signs of abandonment problems, low self-esteem, and issues surrounding food." The intense focus Judy had paid Nick as he ate, and her line of questioning had piqued Bandit's curiosity. "The first two are typical for our species, but the third is interesting."

Nick's anger flared and he found himself standing, leaning over the table, paws down on the smooth surface, lips curled up into a snarl. "Don't you dare psychoanalyze me!" He snapped, barely holding back a growl. If there was one thing Nick hated more than anything else, it was other mammal's poking into his business. He knew he was a mess but he was working on it, and Judy was helping him. He didn't need some other fox trying to interfere.

"They're casual observations, nothing more than that." The emotional outburst from Nick was enough to tell Bandit that his diagnosis had been 100% correct. Sitting back to seem as none threatening as possible, as they were starting to cause a bit of a scene, the arctic fox watched as Nick's jaw clenched, the wheels of his mind turning as he forced himself to sit back down. "She loves you." He attempted to soothe the other tod.

"I know." It was one of the few things Nick was sure of in life.

Bandit shook his head, not convinced. "I don't think you do or, at least, subconsciously you don't. You're possessive over her, even to the point where you'd decided you didn't like me before meeting me." It hadn't taken a genius to figure out that Nick wasn't his biggest fan. "While your possessiveness might be endearing now it may come back to cause problems for you both in the future." The arctic fox worried that Nick might become overbearing or that it could lead to one of them being hurt in the future. Some possessiveness of one's mate was healthy, expected almost, but the level at which Nick seemed to be sitting at made Bandit worry for the country bunny.

"She's all I have. I'm not letting her go without a fight. I also asked her to arrange this." Nick knew he could be a little intense, that his emotions sometimes managed to get the better of him now he was reconnecting with them, but the tod hoped that over time he would mellow out a little more.

Though he'd remained silent at the time, Bandit had been with Akita when she'd received the phone call from Judy about dinner. The doe had explained that Nick had wanted to meet Bandit, and he'd left it to her to organize it given his inability to do so from the academy. The arctic fox had been impressed by Nick's willingness to meet him, particularly since he'd gotten the general impression from Judy that Nick wasn't a fan of his. "You did, and it's commendable, a step in the right direction." He offered Nick some praise, knowing it could go a long way. However, the fox could see that his fellow predator still considered him a threat. Nick's issues were deep, and though Bandit was curious as to what had caused them, he knew better than to ask at present.

Sighing, Bandit reached into his jacket pocket, glancing at the door of the ladies bathroom before he slid a black box across the table. "I'm asking Akita this evening, after dinner, as we walk home through the canopy. There's a viewing area where you can see the ocean and the sky meet, and she always stops to stare at it because it reminds her of home. She wears the softest smile as she reminisces and it makes her even more beautiful." Bandit decided to go all in. If this didn't convince Nick that he wasn't a threat, then nothing would. He watched as Nick reached for the box, opening it to find the diamond ring inside. "Judy has always been yours. There was never any competition. I was never a threat. The only threat right now is that your mate seems to think we might kill one another."

"I'm pretty good at not leaving any evidence." The comment was out before Nick could stop it; mind working on autopilot as he stared at the ring in the box he was holding. Bandit was going to propose to Akita. He was going to fully commit to another mammal.

Eyes flicking between Nick and the door to the ladies bathroom should Bandit need to suddenly snatch back the ring box, the arctic fox snorted. "And I'm good at stopping mammal's from bleeding out."

Closing the ring box, Nick slid it back across the table to Bandit, watching as the other tod pocketed it again, his whole body relaxing once it was out of sight. Nick was still uncomfortable that Bandit had been able to deduce so much about him from their brief interactions, but seeing the ring for Akita had helped soothe the jealousy in him. If Bandit was going to propose to Akita, then he must be serious about her, which would mean that Judy honestly didn't hold any of his interest. Seeing the ring that the arctic fox had picked out for the amur leopard gave Nick a lot to think about. He wanted to marry Judy in the future, but he was unsure how to go about it. He'd have to head to Bunnyburrow and ask permission first, then figure out what to do for a ring. It wouldn't be too flashy, Judy would hate that, but at the same time, Nick wanted it to be special and unique.

"I know that look well." Bandit failed to hide his smile. It had been a risk for him to show Nick the ring he'd picked out for Akita, but by making the first move and trusting Nick with the information of his impending proposal, Bandit hoped it would lay the foundations for them starting to become friends. Nick was a huge part of Judy's life, so Bandit knew he'd be seeing more of the other fox in the future. "That's the look of a mammal trying to figure out how the hell he's going to get down on one knee." The narrowing of Nick's eyes informed Bandit that he was right. "I wouldn't think about it too much. You'll know when it's time." Bandit shrugged. Where to propose had hit him suddenly one afternoon when he'd been tending to some of his patients. Since then, he'd been carrying the ring around in his pocket waiting for them to pass the spot his mate loved so much. This evening's dinner had presented the perfect opportunity. "One fox to another, I suggest we start over." He offered out a paw. "Bandit Whitmaw."

Biting his lower lip, Nick made up his mind. Bandit was going to propose to Akita, commit himself to her for life, and so far he hadn't given Nick any indication that he was interested in Judy whatsoever. "Just your damn insecurities rearing their ugly head again, Wilde." The red fox offered out his paw, knowing it would make his mate happy for him and Bandit to get along. That, and Nick knew he needed to work through his issues, and this was a crucial step in that. "I'm sorry." Nick apologized as he shook Bandit's paw, realizing that it had been unfair of him to judge Bandit without getting to know him first. He'd always hated it when other mammal's had done that to him. As their paws separated, Bandit shrugged, wafting off the apology. "Nick Wilde." The red fox started over.

"As in Wilde & Son?" When Judy had first mentioned Nick's surname it had set off some bells in the arctic fox's mind, the name familiar. It had taken him a short while to figure out where he'd heard the name before, but once he'd spoken to his grandmother, it had all become clear. Nick's small nod made Bandit smile. "My grandmother has a coat from your family business, it's her favorite thing. We'll probably have to bury the old loon in it." The tod shook his head. The coat was dark forest green, double-breasted, and fell to his grandmother's knees. She wore it everywhere and took special care of it so that it lasted.

Snickering, Nick felt himself relaxing now that he was sure Bandit wasn't a threat. "I'm sure your grandmother loves being called a loon."

Chucking, the arctic fox shrugged. He loved his grandmother dearly and spent a lot of time with her when he wasn't busy at the hospital. The fact she lived so close to Savannah General was another factor encouraging the tod to apply for a permanent position there. "As long as I'm out of earshot, and not within reach when she's armed with her rolling pin, I can get away with calling her anything." Bandit's chuckle turned into a proper laugh.

Able to relate, Nick laughed too. His mom had often whacked his tail with the dishtowel whenever he'd misbehaved as a kit. She'd never put much force into it, but it had been enough to ensure he didn't step out of line again. While thinking about stepping out of line, the red fox made a mental note to apologise to Judy for how he'd flown off the handles every time she'd mentioned Bandit. It hadn't been fair.

Though Akita had done everything in her power to soothe the gray doe as they'd chatted in the ladies bathroom for several minutes, the amur leopard could see that Judy was itching to get back to Nick and make sure the two fox's hadn't killed one another. Giving in, she reached for the door, holding it open for the rabbit. Though Akita's hopes had been reasonable, she hadn't expected to open the door to the sound of Nick and Bandit laughing together, seemingly getting along fine "I told you, Judy. Nothing to worry about." She offered her female companion a grin, watching as Judy's shoulders dropped, the frown on her face smoothing out as her large ears honed in on the conversation between their mates. Judy had been frightened that Nick would end up throwing Bandit down on the floor, or that Bandit wouldn't be able to keep his sharp tongue in check.

Surprised that Nick and Bandit appeared to be getting along, Judy scampered back to their table, slipping past Nick to take her seat beside him. Stretching up and across, the doe pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek, wide violet eyes searching emerald, her frown back in place as she tried to gauge how her fox was doing.

Happy to have his mate back, Nick lifted a paw, sweeping his fingers over her cheek, smiling as she leaned into his touch. Dropping his voice to a whisper, he pressed a kiss to Judy's forehead. "We're good, Fluff. It's all good."

A/N Courting Day is loosely based on Sweetest Day, a holiday that is celebrated in the Midwestern United States, and parts of the Northeastern United States, on the third Saturday in October. It's a day to share romantic deeds or expressions, and I figured it was time to bring in some rabbit customs for Nick to adapt to :)