A/N Hi my loves. I'm so, so sorry for the delay in updating! As some of you know, I started a new job about two weeks ago, and its been kicking my butt ever since. It's a lot tougher than I anticipated and most nights when I get home all I want to do is eat and sleep. I'm hoping with time that I'll be able to find a work/life balance as my personal life has suffered greatly since starting. My brain is just a mess of information at the moment, so I feel like my writing isn't that great. Fingers crossed that things will change soon.
On a brighter note, I commissioned Alamarus to doodle Sasha and he did such a wonderful job - she looks adorable! Then, our very own StuBat went and commissioned Foxena over on FurAffinity to draw Nick and Sasha being adorable together. I nearly died when I was sent the final image! You'll find them both posted on my DeviantArt (midnight-opheliac). Go check them out and spread the love!
Once again, major love to my favourite Italian for the chapter title and for helping me out with the ending. What would I do without you?
Staring out of the train carriage, Marian watched the countryside fly past. It was dusk, and the world around them looked even more mesmerizing as the sun started to set. With the holiday season in full swing, there had been chaos on the train lines, and their morning train had been pushed back to an evening one. Marian had never left the city before, had never had the means to do so or anywhere to go once she did. Now, though, she had enough money for hundreds of train tickets and a vast warren of rabbits was waiting to welcome her. The vixen couldn't deny the fact that she was nervous about meeting Judy's siblings. Bonnie and Stu had taken to her quickly, and Marian hoped the rest of the Hopps family would follow suit.
Catching movement from the corner of her eye, Marian shifted her gaze to the two mammals sat on the bench seat opposite her. Judy had taken the window seat, which meant Nick had taken the aisle. Though the arm he had thrown around her shoulders along the back of the seat seemed casual, Marian knew it was also a protective posture. They were lost in conversation, talking about things Marian had no idea about, throwing around names the vixen couldn't put faces to, but none of it bothered her, none of it had her focus. Instead, she concentrated on the lazy grin her son wore and the way Judy's wide violet eyes looked up at him, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips as she chattered away happily. If someone had told her a year ago that her kit would fall in love with a determined country bunny, she would've laughed. Yet here they were.
"Now approaching: Bunnyburrow. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform." The PA system announced, prompting a flurry of activity in their carriage as mammals stood up to gather their belongings. Nick and Judy rose from the bench, stretching.
"Ready, mom?" Nick asked, reaching up to grab their cases from the rack above their heads. He'd take the suitcases belonging to himself and his mom, while Judy would carry her own and the one filled with Christmas presents. The tod wanted to be a gentlemammal and take his mates case too, but with only two paws he was stuck. His mom was carrying gifts for Bonnie and Stu, the vixen having insisted on taking flowers and some elderflower wine with them.
Moving through the carriage as best as possible with their luggage, Nick led the way to the doors. As the train pulled to a stop, the tod allowed several families to disembark before them. Stepping off the train, he used his height to his advantage as he looked over the array of rabbits gathered on the platform. His mom and Judy disembarked behind him, the platform starting to empty as mammals rushed to get home. The fresh air was a welcome relief from the stifling carriage and the overwhelming scent of his mate. With winter firmly set in, the tod's body was rebelling, demanding he claim her, but he refused to until Judy gave it the okay. In the meantime, he'd take a lot of cold showers.
"MISTER NICK!" The girlish squeal broke him from his thoughts, and a grin crossed his lips as he put the bags down to the sound of rushing hind paws heading his way. Crouching he opened his arms, and through the few remaining rabbits on the platform, his favorite baby bunny came hurtling towards him. With a light thud, Sasha threw herself into his arms, burying her face in his chest.
Wrapping her up in his embrace, Nick chuckled. "Hey Cinnamon." He stroked her back as his tail wagged. He'd kept in contact with the small rabbit while away at the academy, but everyone had agreed not to tell her that he would be visiting for Christmas so that he could surprise her.
Nose buried in Nick's fur, Sasha clung to her favorite fox. She'd kept his tie safe since his last visit, though the doe was sad that she would now have to give it back. "You're here!" She exclaimed, pulling back just enough so she could look at him properly. Excited, she bounced on the spot.
"Did you think I'd turn down the opportunity to see my favorite bunny?" Nick shook his head, trying not to chuckle at the sight of Sasha's excitement. She'd grown a bit since he'd last seen her, and the tod could tell that she'd be breaking some hearts once she hit her teens. Stu would probably have to chase away a few bucks with his shotgun.
Clearing her throat, Judy lifted an eyebrow at her mate. Folding her arms over her chest, she tapped her hind paw on the ground. In truth, the doe was only jesting. She didn't mind Nick laying plenty of fuss and attention on her little sister, but the opportunity to tease her fox was too good to miss.
At the sound of Judy clearing her throat, Nick tipped his head to look up at her, a cheeky grin on his face. "My second favorite bunny?" He corrected, his comment pulling a sad noise and a pout from Sasha. Turning back to the baby rabbit, the tod lowered his voice to a stage whisper. "I have to say that Ju-Ju is my favorite, or she'll make me do everything at work."
Scowling, the small rabbit glanced up at her sister. "That's mean Ju-Ju. Mister Nick shouldn't have to do all the work." She scolded.
The tod only just held in his laughter, but he was unable to suppress his grin. "Yeah, that's really mean, Ju-Ju."
Marian had remained silent since stepping off the train, watching the scene unfold before her. She'd heard about Sasha from both Nick and Judy, and had been told countless stories about the baby bunny. Now that she could witness Nick and Sasha together, the vixen could see how the rabbit had Nick wrapped around her little finger. "Oh if you ever have a daughter, Nicky, she'll be daddy's little princess."
Jasmine had decided to stay back, to remain at the entrance and watch the reunion from afar. It had been easy to keep track of Sasha as she'd weaved through the crowds, her unique fur pattern standing out. Now, with the platform empty, she had an unobstructed view of the goings-on. Brown eyes moved to the vixen and Jasmine gave her the once-over. Her parents had spoken highly of her and trusted her so Jasmine would follow suit. After all, Marian had raised Nick, and the tod wasn't a bad mammal. The pencil skirt and blouse that Marian was wearing reminded Jasmine of her high school teachers and the pearls around her neck only furthered her wholesome image.
Though the baby bunny had been distracted by the return of her favorite fox, it didn't take her long to notice the vixen stood behind him. Wide brown eyes looked up, blinking. Sudden shyness had the doe lifting a paw to put her thumb in her mouth. She didn't know the lady or why she was with Nick.
Judy gently took the items Marian had been carrying, and the vixen crouched down next to her son, offering the little rabbit a soft smile. "Hi sweetheart, I'm Marian." She introduced herself.
Still staring at Marian, the baby bunny tipped her head sideways, one large ear flopping over. The vixen looked a little like Nick. "Are you Mister Nick's mommy?" Sasha asked around her thumb.
"I am. What's your name?" Marian tried to get the kit to talk some more, reaching out to gently pry her thumb from her mouth. It had been a long time since the vixen had been around little ones, but her motherly instinct was still there. Even though Nick was an adult now and more than capable of taking care of himself, he would always be her kit.
Trusting the vixen because she was Nick's mom, the doe offered her a toothy smile. "Sasha. Ju-Ju is my big sister. I'm five." She proudly declared. Her mom had always told her it was rude to ask an adult their age, so Sasha picked a different question. "Are you staying for Christmas, Missus Marian?"
Sasha's confidence and sweetness were endearing, and Marian understood now why Nick had taken to her so quickly. "I am. Nicky and Judy asked me to join you all."
"I don't know about you, Ju, but I don't want to be late home and worry mom," Jasmine called out, knowing they needed to get moving. It was getting late and the doe didn't want to drive home in the dark.
Rising back to his full height, Nick helped his mom up. The vixen took back the flowers and wine from Judy, and the group of mammals walked together towards the train entrance. When they reached Jasmine, Judy took over. "Marian, this is my littermate, Jasmine." The doe started. "Jasmine, this is Nick's mom, Marian." She watched as the vixen transferred everything to one paw, enabling her and Jasmine to shake. With their introduction done, the group headed out to the truck.
The logistics of getting five mammals home when the cab of the truck could only hold two led to an unusual arrangement. Marian, Nick, and Sasha all sat in the truck bed. The vixen had wanted to be out in the fresh air and had Nick refusing to leave her side. In turn, Sasha had refused to leave Nick's side. With all their bags in the bed, there wasn't much room for them to sit, leaving Nick to perch Sasha on his lap. Judy and Jasmine sat in the cab, the latter driving.
"Mister Nick, why are you so fluffy?" Sasha asked, small paws reaching out to touch the thick fur around his neck as the truck started to rumble down the lanes of Bunnyburrow.
Not thinking it was appropriate to tell the baby bunny about mating season, Nick instead settled on a different explanation. "It's winter now so it's much colder. My thick fur keeps me warm."
"Why don't rabbits have thick fur in winter?" Sasha didn't understand why it was something only Nick's species was allowed to have. She wanted thicker fur too.
Remembering one of his phone calls with Judy, the tod settled on an answer that sounded reasonable. "You rabbits sleep in a fluffle, so when you're huddled together with your siblings, you don't lose too much body heat, as you're all sharing your warmth with one another. We foxes tend to live alone, and we don't like huddling together, so instead, our fur gets much thicker." He explained.
Nick's explanation made sense to the bunny, but it still made her wish she had a winter coat. Rummaging in the pocket of her dress, Sasha pulled out Cloudy, lifting it to her mouth so she could chew.
"You still have Cloudy," Nick commented. Lifting a paw, he gently smoothed down the rabbit's ears.
Nodding as she nibbled, Sasha pulled the toy away from her mouth a moment later, the edge of it now covered in saliva. "I still have your tie too, Mister Nick. Do you want it back when we get home?"
Chuckling, the tod shook his head. "You can keep it, Cinnamon." He offered her a smile as she snuggled back into his chest, continuing to chew on her toy.
Having watched the whole exchange, Marian had to hold back her coo. Instead, she turned to look out over the countryside. Her night vision enabled her to see more clearly in the fading light. Green fields trundled past them, and the rolling hills on the horizon were covered in tall trees. There wasn't a skyscraper in sight, and Marian savored the fresh breeze as it rustled through her fur. The wind carried with it the scent of crops, and though it was Christmas the weather was mild, and the vixen could see rain clouds on the horizon.
The vixen found herself wishing that she and Robert had visited the countryside when he'd been alive, perhaps even brought Nick out to play in the fields and fill his lungs with the fresh air. Her husband had always liked going for long walks in the park, and Marian was confident he would've loved learning how to grow crops. He'd always been good at crafts that involved his paws. Marian was also certain that he would've loved to meet the family of the mammal his son was involved with. Thinking about her husband made the vixen smile with nostalgia.
Though only a kit, Sasha had always been in tune with the emotions of those around her, and as she saw the expression on Marian's face she left the safety of Nick's lap, ears pinging up as she crawled across the truck bed to sit in the vixen's lap. "Why are you sad, Missus Marian?" The doe blinked up at Nick's mom.
Amused by the little rabbit's courage, Marian lifted a paw to gently smooth down Sasha's ears in a move that mirrored her sons. "Oh, I'm not sad, sweetheart." The vixen reassured the baby bunny.
"Your mouth was down, like this." Sasha made a sad face, sticking out her lower lip for added effect.
Chuckling at Sasha's impression, Marian shook her head. "I was just thinking about how much Nicky's daddy would've loved it out here."
Frowning, Sasha wondered why Nick's dad wasn't with them. Surely her mother and father would've invited them both? Unless his parents weren't married anymore. That had happened to one of her school friends. "Where is he now?"
Lifting the paw she'd been using to stroke down the silky fur on Sasha's ears, Marian pointed up to the sky. "He's up there."
Sasha tipped her head all the way back, staring up at the sky. Thinking, she tipped her head back down, catching Marian's gaze. "Momma says that's where Gram-Gram is too. Do you think Gram-Gram and Mister Nick's daddy are friends?"
Knowing little about the Hopps family as a whole, the vixen had been unaware that Sasha's grandmother had passed, and though she wasn't sure how long ago it was, she still tried to offer the baby bunny some comfort. "I think they might be."
Pleased with the answer, Sasha gave Marian a toothy smile before she twisted to face her favorite fox. "Mister Nick?"
Having been listening to the conversation between his mom and Sasha, Nick had tried his hardest to stay out of it. Though there had been lots of deep conversations between him and Marian, they were yet to touch on the subject of his father's death. The tod had a feeling it would be a long and painful conversation. "Yes, Cinnamon?"
"What was your daddy called?" Big brown eyes blinked at Nick.
Though the tod was apprehensive to talk about his father he offered the bunny a small smile. "Robert, but everyone called him Robin."
Gasping, Sasha's eyes widened. "Like the character in the bedtime story you told us last time!" Turning her head to Marian, the baby bunny excitedly bounced in her lap. "Mister Nick was telling us a story about Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Did you actually play badminton with your lady in waiting?"
Rolling her eyes at the tales her son told, the vixen decided to play along. She didn't want to break little Sasha's heart. "Every weekend without fail."
"Will you teach me how to play, please?" Sasha asked as she snuggled against Marian, noticing that the vixen was a little fluffy too.
Cradling the rabbit with one of her arms, Marian smiled down at the small ball of brown fluff. "I'd be more than happy too, sweetheart." The vixen was careful to watch her terms of endearment. Nick had kindly pointed out to her that rabbits hated being called cute, and Marian had been distraught when she'd remembered calling Judy that the first time they'd met. Her son had soon soothed her though, telling her that it was fine.
Sasha's lack of fear made Marian's heart swell. The little rabbit hadn't known her thirty minutes, and yet she felt comfortable enough to snuggle against a mammal that was supposed to be her enemy. Gaze lifting from Sasha, Marian found Nick watching them, and she offered out her free paw to her son. Nick took it without a moment's hesitation, giving it a gentle squeeze as they turned their focus back to the world around them.
As the truck rounded a corner, Marian gasped. A huge, looming building had come into view. The structure was much bigger than anything she'd seen in the city and was painted a bright cherry red, reminding her of her front door. The structure was protruding from a large mound of earth with a sprawling front porch wrapped around it. As they drew closer, the vixen could see several windows embedded in the side of the mound. However, the feature that caught her attention the most was the cladding on the front of the building – it was shaped like giant rabbit ears.
As the vehicle came to a stop beside the front porch, Nick smiled at his mom's reaction. "You think this is impressive, wait until we get inside. The communal space is in the mound, but all the bedrooms are underground." Nick parroted the information Judy had given him when she'd first brought him home. Sasha clambered off of Marian's lap, dropping down to the ground, and Nick followed behind her. Once he was steady on his hind paws, he helped his mom out of the truck bed before he reached in to start unloading their bags.
Getting out of the cab, Judy circled the truck, giving Marian back the wine and flowers before she helped Nick with their bags, taking two while he took the other two. As a group they moved towards the front door, little Sasha leading them, Cloudy clutched in her paw.
Captivated by her surroundings, Marian couldn't stop looking at everything as they entered the house. They weaved through hallways, passing many family rooms, playrooms, and a library all decked out in Christmas decorations. The vixen could see and hear kits in the rooms, and as they passed, the baby rabbits would stop playing, curiosity leading them to abandon their toys and books to follow her through the house instead. She could hear the fluffle behind her, and though it made her a little nervous, she was too engrossed in the beauty of her surroundings. The house was filled with life and love, from the rabbits behind her to the kit drawings in frames on the walls. It was the kind of home Marian would've loved if she'd had more than one baby.
As they moved deeper into the house, they came to a large white door. Marian watched as Jasmine gave it a shove, unprepared for the cacophony of noise that assaulted her eardrums as the doors opened. Ears flattening to try and block out some of the sound, the smell of food cooking made the vixen's mouth water. Marian looked around the kitchen, in awe at the sheer scale of it and all of the gadgets on the counters. The vixen had always loved cooking, and she'd kill for a kitchen like the one she was currently stood in.
"Oh, you're here!" Bonnie's large ears swiveled at the sound of mammals entering her kitchen, and she quickly wiped her paws on her apron, abandoning the dough she'd been rolling out on one of the counters, ready to make Christmas cookies. Bustling around the counter, the Hopps matriarch greeted her guests. Hugging Judy and Nick first, the doe then turned her attention to Marian while Sasha disappeared to find the drawings she'd made for Nick, and Jasmine left to inform her dad of their guest's arrivals.
Offering out the wine and flowers, Marian gave her friend a fond smile. "Just a little something." She explained. It had taken the vixen some time to pick out what to take, unsure as to what was customary in Bunnyburrow. Thankfully, her son had thrown her a lifeline by informing her of the importance of flowers to rabbits, so Marian had bought a bouquet of Alstroemeria, as they represented friendship.
Cooing at the sweet gesture, Bonnie took the items from Marian, lifting the flowers so she could smell them. They were beautiful and smelt delicious, and Bonnie couldn't wait to put them in a vase on her dresser. "You're too kind Marian, thank you." She placed both items down on a clear bit of counter, embracing the vixen. "Whatever you want or need during your stay, please let us know." Bonnie insisted, pulling back from their embrace. "I hope the guest room just down the hall from Nick and Judy will be okay?"
"It'll be absolutely fine Bon, please don't worry," Marian reassured her, grateful to have even been invited in the first place. She was a laid back guest and didn't want to cause a fuss. Whatever room Bonnie had set aside for her would be perfect.
Still dragging their bags, Judy couldn't wait to be rid of them. "We'll show you where it is." She offered, tipping her head in the direction of the staircase down to the dining area. The doe led the way, Marian following, and Nick taking up the rear. Judy kept their pace leisurely, giving the vixen time to look around as they descended the stairs and headed towards one of the many corridors leading to the bedrooms.
Rationally, Marian had known that Bonnie and Stu would need a large home to house all their kits, but she'd never imagined a dwelling as large as this. The dining area was decked out with Christmas decorations, just like the communal areas they'd passed on their way to the kitchen, and Marian noted that there were several massive Christmas trees in the space too, all of which had presents under them. Following Judy down one of the corridors, they descended further underground, twisting and turning along corridors until they came to one which ended with a dead end. "Nick and I will be here if you need anything." Marian's ears flicked towards Judy as the doe spoke, catching Judy gesturing with her chin to a white door with 'Ju' written on it. They continued past it, finally stopping outside the brown door of one of the many guest rooms.
Releasing one of the bags, Judy opened the door for Marian. It wasn't huge, but it was comfortable. The walls were duck-egg blue, the floor wooden, and a large double bed sat to the left of the room. It had been made up with cream bedding and duck-egg throw cushions. Her mom had put a vase of fresh flowers on the dresser, and clean towels on the bed. There was a wooden wardrobe too and a door that led to an en-suite. When her parents had been building the guest rooms they'd deemed it unfair to expect their visitors to have to use the same bathrooms as the hundreds of Hopps kits.
As Nick was carrying Marian's bag, the doe let her mate put it down first before speaking again. "We'll let you freshen up, then when you're done just knock on our door and we'll head back upstairs." Though Judy reasoned that Marian's sense of smell was just as good as Nick's, she didn't want to risk the vixen getting lost in the maze of rooms and corridors in the warren. After Marian offered them her thanks, Judy led the way back out of the room, Nick close behind her.
Pulling the remaining three bags behind them, Nick and Judy made their way to the latter's bedroom, taking the few small steps down into the room once they'd crossed the threshold. Nothing had changed since the last time they'd visited, except for the fact that Nick was now stuck in a closed room that had no windows, with his mate, during mating season. Her scent was stronger with the lack of ventilation, and Nick's keen sense of smell made it hard to ignore the heady aroma. Needing something to distract him, the tod lifted their bags onto the bed, starting to unpack his case. There was space in the wardrobe for him to hang his clothes, and the drawers were empty save for a few of Judy's summer clothes.
Observing Nick's body language, the doe knew it would be difficult for him to restrain himself. She didn't want him to feel like he couldn't reach out to her though, that he couldn't touch her whenever he needed too because he was concerned about others finding out about them. "We should tell my parents this evening." She decided. It would make any physical contact between them easier and would enable Nick to soothe his mating season urges whenever they crept up on him. "Mom sends you care packages and dad pretty much sang your praise after you chased off George and Billy last time so I can't see them having a problem with us." She swallowed, feeling a little nervous. Though she was her own mammal now and had cut the apron strings, her parent's opinion was still important.
Nick listened as he continued to unpack, unable to stop the agitated swishing of his tail. As Judy became nervous, her scent spiked, and Nick had to bite down on his tongue to stop himself from acting on his impulses. In the past, the season hadn't been too bad for him, the urge more like a frustrating itch that needed scratching, but now that Judy was his mate he was battling his body's natural instinct to claim her.
Unable to stand seeing Nick so on edge, Judy reached out, grasping his paws to stop him from removing anything else from his suitcase. "Nick." She whispered, pulling him away from the case so they could stand facing one another. Letting go of one of his paws she reached up to cup his muzzle, violet finding emerald. "How bad is it?"
"It's okay, I can handle it." The lie rolled off his tongue, but it tasted foul.
Not believing him, and feeling disappointed that he felt he had to lie, Judy shook her head, moving her paw to cup his cheek. "Please don't lie to me." She murmured, sensing how tense her fox was.
"The small space makes your scent stronger," Nick explained with a sigh, hating that he wasn't able to stop it from getting to him.
Knowing they would be spending a lot of time underground in confined spaces, Judy decided to do something about it. "What do you need?"
Mulling it over, the tod came up with something he hoped would help. "This." He moved to embrace his bunny, pulling her small frame close, pressing their bodies together. His tail stopped swishing, instead moving to curl around Judy's ankles. Holding her close, he rubbed his muzzle across her face and neck, smothering her in his scent. It wasn't exactly subtle, but his possessive instincts were heightened and shy of claiming Judy, this was the next best option. A low rumble started in his chest as his doe let him mark her, and the tod tightened his hold. The urge to bite was strong, but Nick forced himself to keep his mouth shut, not wanting to hurt Judy accidentally.
Bringing Nick's snout to her throat, Judy tipped her head sideways to reveal more of it. "It's okay."
Swallowing, the fox screwed his eyes shut. "I can't. We're not…" he trailed off. A bite now would be meaningless as they weren't in the midst of love-making.
"It might help." Judy reasoned. She wasn't afraid of Nick's bite. Instead, a shiver of anticipation swept down her spine.
Apprehensive, it took Judy whispering words of encouragement to push Nick into action. Pulling back a little from their embrace, the tod crashed his lips against Judy's, the low rumble in his chest turning into a growl.
Licking across the seam of Judy's lips, the tod demanded entry as he took a few steps forward, pushing Judy until her back hit the wall. Picking her up with ease, he lost himself in their kiss, vaguely feeling his doe wrap her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck as he gave himself over to his instincts.
Swept away by Nick's kiss, Judy mewled against his lips, paws grasping at thick fur. "Nick." She managed to whine as her tod moved to scatter kisses down her throat, mouth reaching the curve where her neck and shoulder met. "It's okay." She soothed. "Bite."
Encouraged, the tod followed Judy's command, biting her as he growled, paws holding her tightly. He didn't break skin, but his canines left a noticeable indent. His mates breathy moan and the roll of her hips as his jaws locked around her soothed his instincts, and after a minute he pulled back, feeling calmer and more centered now that Judy carried his scent and his mark, albeit temporary.
"Better?" Judy whispered, lust-blown violet eyes searching Nick's face. His eyes were still closed, but she could feel that the tension had drained from his body, and instead his tail was swishing happily.
Nodding, the tod opened his eyes. Emerald met violet and Nick smiled. "I love you." He declared, grateful that his doe was so understanding.
"I love you too." Judy pressed a kiss to the side of Nick's muzzle, feeling a slight twinge in her neck. The discomfort was worth it though to know that Nick was feeling more relaxed. "If it gets too much again, please let me know."
"I will. Thank you, Fluff." Nick captured her lips in a gentle kiss, rubbing his muzzle across her cheek once more when they pulled back. A light knock at the door had Nick putting Judy down, the pair of them smoothing out their clothes and fur. The tod grabbed the suitcase with the presents in, figuring they might as well take it up with them. Together they moved to the door, and Judy opened it to reveal Marian. The vixen had brushed out her fur and changed clothes.
The three of them made their way back through the maze of corridors, emerging into the dining area. Steering the group towards the Christmas tree's, Judy led them towards the correct one. The Hopps family broke down the trees by letters; so only certain litters put presents under them. There were six trees in total separated into A-D, E-H, I-L, M-P, Q-T, and U-W. Her parents were yet to have another litter that would push them into the X's and beyond. Kneeling before the I-L tree, Judy unzipped the case with their presents in and started to stack them underneath. When the job was done, the doe left the bag by the tree for her and Nick to take back to their room later. Judy's present for Nick was still in her room. Standing, Judy led the three of them back up the stairs to the kitchen. Bonnie wasn't alone, and what little space had been available on the counter was now covered in baked goods. Judy smiled as she realized who their guest was. "Hey, Gid!"
Turning at the sound of his name, the portly fox grinned at the gray rabbit. "H-hey there, Judy." He caught sight of the other tod stood with her. "Nick, I heard ya were coming to town so I brought you more of them blueberry pies you like." He'd sent several care packages of baked goods to the fox while he'd been at the academy.
"You spoil me." Nick grinned, inhaling the sweet smells of the warm goods.
Spotting the vixen stood just behind Nick and Judy, Gideon turned his attention to her, offering her a smile as he held out a paw. "H-howdy Ma'am. I'm Gideon Grey, pleased to meet ya."
Marian recognized the name, recalling Judy's story about being clawed as a kit, and as much as she wanted to scold the fox opposite her, she instead plastered on a smile as she shook his paw. Judy seemed okay with him now, and so did Nick. "Marian Wilde." She introduced herself, taking her paw back.
"I-is there anything, in particular, you like Mrs. Wilde? I'd be happy to bring you some." Gideon gestured to the counter laden with food. He hadn't been made aware of the fact the vixen was coming too, so he'd focused most of his efforts on making treats that he knew Nick and Judy liked.
Stealing a glance at her kit, Marian caught his nod. "I do enjoy lemon meringue pie." The vixen offered Gideon a small smile.
"Well I ain't ever made a lemon meringue pie before, but I'll give it a go for you!" The opportunity to branch out and try something new excited the tod.
Glad she hadn't come across as too demanding, Marian nodded. "Thank you, Gideon."
"Well I-I best be heading back to my shop now. But you enjoy them treats and let me know if you want anymore. I'll try and get a lemon meringue pie to you soon Mrs. Wilde, but if I don't see you 'fore, have a good Christmas." Gideon offered his well wishes to all the mammals in the room, who said their goodbyes too before he left through the back door, heading towards his truck.
Glancing to her pans on the stove, Bonnie reasoned that dinner would be ready in five minutes. "Okay, go and wash paws and take your seats." She instructed, gesturing with a thumb towards the kitchen sinks.
"Do you need a paw, Bonnie?" Marian offered, uncomfortable with idly sitting by while the doe worked away.
Shooing her guests away, Bonnie shook her head. She was used to cooking for her hundreds of kits, adding a few more mouths to feed was a piece of cake. "No no Marian, please go and sit. I've got this."
Ushered away, the vixen followed Nick and Judy down the stairs to the dining area. Her son and his mate led her to one of the long tables, and the vixen sat with Nick to her left and Judy to his left. Taking some more time to look around her, a small rumbling sound started to get louder and closer, and Marian frowned.
"Brace yourself for the fluffle." Nick whispered to his mom, grinning. He couldn't wait to see how she would react to the multitude of bunnies that were heading towards them. If the way they'd responded to him when he'd first arrived was anything to go by, then his mom was in for a treat.
From the corridors leading to the bedrooms came hundreds of baby bunnies, chasing after one another, tumbling into the room in a maelstrom of noise that had Marian's ears flattening. Some of the rabbits broke off to find their seats, but a significant portion made a beeline for Marian, Nick, and Judy. The vixen was well aware of the size of Judy's family, but seeing so many kits together, all eyes locked on her, was daunting. Amongst the fluffle she found Sasha, her fur pattern unique compared to her siblings. It didn't take long before Marian was surrounded, kits crowded around her, clambering onto the seat and table to get closer to her.
"Do you actually wear a fancy headdress?"
"Is your lady in waiting really an old goat?"
"Has Robin Hood taught you how to use a bow and arrow?"
"Gee, you're very beautiful."
"Are you and Robin Hood sweethearts?"
"Do you live in a castle?"
"Did Robin Hood come here with you?"
The plethora of questions was overwhelming, and Marian silently cursed her son and his tall tales. Nick had always had an overactive imagination, and the vixen wanted to hear the full story her son had told before she gave any concrete answers. The ones about Robin being with her, though, made her smile falter. The kits were so excited at the idea of him being around, bouncing on their hind paws, eyes wide, and grins fixed firmly in place. She didn't have the heart to tell them that her beloved husband had passed away, yet they needed to know, if only so they'd stop asking.
"Robin Hood is with Gram-Gram." Sasha broke through the cacophony, her siblings falling silent. The little doe had perfected the art of silently observing mammals around her, and using their body language as cues. The hush that fell over her siblings told her that they understood, and as a unit they all moved in, grabbing onto whatever part of Marian they could reach to cuddle her, being mindful of her tail. Sasha had reached for Marian's paw with one of her own and was now holding it while her siblings hugged the vixen.
"Alright kits, give our guests room to breathe." Stu had arrived just as his offspring had swarmed Marian and had started bombarding her with questions. His large ears had honed in on the conversation, and he felt it was time to step in before Marian became too emotional. Shooing away his kits, who all scrambled to get to their seats, the buck offered Marian, Nick, and Judy a warm smile. "Hey Marian, Nick, Judy. Sorry I couldn't greet you when you first arrived, the tractor isn't going to fix itself!" He tugged on the straps of his dirty overalls.
Laughing, Marian brushed aside Stu's apology. "It's fine, honestly. We understand that you have a lot of work to do as you prepare for next season." She'd picked up a few books from the library on her way home from work over the past few weeks, curiosity prompting her to read up about agriculture.
"If you need a paw with anything Stu, I'm happy to help." Nick offered. He didn't know the first thing about fixing tractors, but he'd helped Finnick repair his van several times, and the tod figured a tractor couldn't be too different.
Large ears turning at the sound of a commotion on the other side of the room, Stu shot Nick a smile. "I might just take you up on that offer, son." He glanced over to the other side of the room, sighing when he saw some of his kits fighting over their seats. "I better go and deal with this lot before they kill one another. I'll catch up with you later!" He waved his goodbyes, striding across the room to deal with his unruly kits.
Spotting that Sasha hadn't run off with her siblings, Marian offered the baby rabbit a smile, noting that she was holding a few pieces of paper in her paws. "Hey sweetheart, what've you got there?"
"Drawings," Sasha answered, playing with the edges of the paper. She'd mentioned in one of her letters to Nick that she'd been running low on drawing paper and would have to get more soon, and with Nick's response had been $20 – enough to buy a new sketch pad and some pretty coloring pencils. The doe had decided to draw a few things for Nick first, as a thank you. "I drew them for Mister Nick."
Hearing that they were for him, Nick twisted in his seat and opened up his arms, helping Sasha clamber onto his lap. She smoothed out the pile of drawings on the table and started to talk through them, only to be interrupted a moment later by the arrival of Jasmine and Julian, who sat opposite. After Julian and Marian had been introduced, Sasha continued with her explanation. There were drawings of Nick and Judy out on patrol and of them in their apartment, amongst others. Sasha reached the final one in the pile and grinned. "And here's you and Ju-Ju with your kits."
The whole group froze, Nick and Judy's eyes widening while Marian tried to stifle her laugh, going so far as to lift a paw to her mouth to hide her smile. Jasmine and Julian blinked in surprise before they shared a look, and the littermates leaned towards Nick and Judy in sync, not wanting to miss anything. They'd had their suspicions, but now they wanted confirmation.
Nick was first to speak, trying to hide behind his con-mammal mask but finding it hard to do so around the baby bunny. "Remember when I told you Ju-Ju was my girl friend, with a space in the middle, a girl who's a friend?" The tod figured it wasn't wise for Sasha to know about their relationship status yet. The whole warren would know by the end of dinner, and that wasn't how he and Judy wanted Bonnie and Stu to find out.
Scowling, the young doe shook her head. She hated that because she was a kit, adults assumed that she didn't understand. "Nu-uh. You and Ju-Ju smelled like one another when you last came to visit, and it's even stronger now. Momma and daddy smell just as strong and they're married, so that must mean you two are getting married soon and are going to have lots of kits." She rationalized.
The whole room fell silent, eyes and ears turning towards them.
Marian tried so hard to stifle her laughter, biting on her lower lip. She'd adored Sasha before, but the little rabbit had climbed even higher in her ranking of favorite mammals, all because of her ability to embarrass her son.
Nudging Judy's hind paw under the table, Nick sought her cooperation. "We live together and work together, that's all." He tried to backtrack, hiding his wince as he saw that Sasha didn't believe him.
"Shared living means we carry one another's scent like you carry your littermates scent." Judy stepped in, turning to look around the room and scowl at her siblings, prompting them to return their attention, and their ears, to the conversations on their own tables.
Curious, Julian inhaled deeply, nostrils flaring. Sasha was right; they did smell more like one another now. Nick's scent was especially strong on his sister. Eyes narrowing, the buck's mind started to work through the limited information he'd been able to pry from Gideon about fox's after Nick and Judy's last visit. "You muzzled her." He whispered. Gideon had been forthcoming about the fox equivalent of chinning when Julian had pushed. "You two are together." Not bothering to wait for an answer, he looked to Marian, seeking clarification. He wouldn't put it past Nick and Judy to try and lie again.
"I've known for a while." Marian let the cat out of the bag with a shrug. They were Judy's siblings, and the vixen was sure they wouldn't go running off to Bonnie and Stu and ruin it for her kit and Judy. Besides, Bonnie and Stu already secretly knew anyway.
Folding her arms over her chest, Sasha pouted. "I was right!" She kept her voice down, figuring that if the grown-ups were whispering, then she should too. Eyes finding Judy, the baby rabbit tipped her head sideways as she noticed something odd. "What's that?" She asked, leaning over to prod at the indent in Judy's neck, her fur having flattened and parted when Nick had bitten her.
Curious, Marian shifted so she could see better, eyebrows rising as she realized what Sasha was pointing at. Nostrils flaring, she thankfully couldn't scent blood. Her kit shrank down, tail flicking nervously behind him, and Marian sighed softly as it all made sense. Mating season no longer had much of an effect on her – she'd found her mate, though he was now gone, and they'd had a kit together. Her body was satisfied with what she had, so it no longer drove her crazy when the colder months rolled around. For Nick, though, with a new mate and still in his prime, his hormones were driving him crazy. Reaching out, she brushed a paw over one of Nick's ears, scritching behind it in a show of understanding.
"Are those teeth marks?" Julian hissed, leaning over the table to get as close as possible to his sister.
Before Julian could grab the wrong end of the stick and all hell broke loose, Marian interrupted. "It's how we claim our mates." She clarified, guessing that the buck didn't know much about fox customs.
"By biting them?" Jasmine asked, horrified.
Figuring showing them would have a greater impact; Marian moved the collar of her shirt, revealing her claim mark. Small patches of fur that no longer grew where her husband's teeth had broken skin. "It's very common." She moved her shirt back over the area, concealing it once again.
"And you're okay with this?" Jasmine asked her sister, concerned for her safety. Sure she trusted Nick, but he was still a predator, and he was biting his prey mate…
Judy beat down her anger at her sister's question. Jasmine didn't know better and was being an overbearing and protective sister, thinking the worst. "It's fine, honestly." She reassured her sibling. Judy watched as Julian and Jasmine shared a look, and though the doe had grown up with the two mammals opposite her, she couldn't decipher what the look meant. Had she really been away from home so long that she'd forgotten how to take part in her litter's silent conversations? She didn't have time to dwell on it before both Jasmine and Julian were nodding, sitting back in their seats, seemingly satisfied with her answer.
Swallowing, Nick spared a moment to think about how strange his customs must be to Judy's family. She'd adapted to his species a lot, but he was yet to take on more of her customs. Nick silently vowed to change that. Turning his attention to the quiet baby bunny in his arms, Nick offered her a gentle smile "Cinnamon, sweetheart. You know I don't ask much of you, but please promise me you won't tell anyone else about this. Ju-Ju and I need to speak to your mom and dad alone about it, and we don't want them hearing it from anyone other than us."
"I promise Mister Nick," Sasha vowed, sensing it was serious by Nick's tone. She didn't want to accidentally upset him.
Kissing the kits forehead, Nick's shoulders dropped in relief, and from the corner of his eye, he could see Judy do the same. "Thank you, princess."
"How long?" Jasmine demanded, wanting all the details. She spotted her mom coming down the stairs with some dishes and figured conversation would soon have to cease. She wanted as much information as possible between now and then.
"Since their last visit here." Marian chimed; taking a sip of water from one of the many glasses that had been laid out.
Astounded, Julian blinked. "You've been keeping it a secret for that long?" The buck felt a pang of hurt this his littermate hadn't felt comfortable coming to him with the information, though he understood she could have doubts given his reaction to Nick during their last visit. How could she have kept such information from their parents, though?
"We wanted to tell mom and dad face to face, and this is the first opportunity that's come up. That, and being apart while Nick's been at the academy has been difficult for us. We didn't want to add the stress of having to tell others." Judy explained, sparing a glance to her mate. Thankfully, their time apart was in the past now. Nick would only have to go back for a week to sit his exams, and then they wouldn't have to be separated again for any length of time. "Way to sound co-dependent, Judy."
Jasmine and Julian exchanged a glance, and the buck nodded towards Nick and Judy. "We won't say anything." He vowed, realizing how important the reveal was to his sister. The rabbit knew his parents would be okay with it, they adored Nick, but telling a parent that you were seriously involved with someone was a big deal, even more so when it was interspecies.
Both doe and tod sighed in relief, offering Jasmine and Julian smiles as Bonnie started to put down plates of food at the far end of their table. "Okay Sasha, you need to take your seat now." Judy tried to make her little sister move so that Nick would be able to eat without her perched on his lap, but the baby bunny refused. Instead, she clung to the fox.
"I don't wanna go." She whined, lower lip wobbling.
Knowing it probably made her seem like the evil big sister, Judy shook her head. "There's no space for you here, Sasha. You can't sit on Nick's lap while we eat." She tried to be gentle, to coerce her sister into agreeing with her.
Watching the conversation, Marian knew she'd have more time with Nick once he'd passed his exams, and the amount of time he'd get to spend in Bunnyburrow would decrease. Making a decision, the vixen looked over to Jasmine and Julian, gesturing to the space between them. "Think you have room for an old vixen on your side of the table?"
As Marian was their guest, Judy didn't want her to feel like she had to move to placate Sasha. Opening her mouth to say as much, the vixen cut her off.
"It's fine, Judy, really. I'm happy to move." Marian shrugged, not at all bothered. Sasha offered her a toothy grin, and as the vixen moved to the other side of the table, the baby bunny took her seat.
"Thank you, Missus Marian." The little doe kicked her legs where she sat, grin still in place as Marian took her seat opposite Nick.
Picking up Sasha's drawings, Judy folded them neatly, putting them in her pocket for safekeeping. They had space on their fridge, and she was sure Nick would stick them there.
As Bonnie reached them, the Hopps matriarch started to set down their meals. Judy had sent her an email with some recipes appropriate for Nick and Marian ahead of time, and her mom had dipped into them for dinner. The doe became a silent observer to the scene around her, watching Nick and Marian interact with her family, brain stuck on Sasha's drawings and the bite on her neck. Mind whirring, Judy came to an important decision. It was time.
Once dinner was over, and the plates had been cleared away, Marian was elected as the bedtime story teller, and the vixen led a giant fluffle of baby bunnies towards one of the upstairs common rooms. She had a few stories in mind to tell the kits, fox tales that she'd told her son during his youth.
"I think your mom handled that like a champ." Judy commented as the room emptied, turning in her seat so that she could face her fox. During dinner Marian had maintained conversation with them and Judy's siblings, speaking to any rabbit that had approached her and introduced themselves. Hazel had come up mid-way through dinner, keen to meet the mammal who's clothing she loved. Judy had been sending her photos regularly of the outfits the vixen had made for her. The two had chatted away for some time, and when Hazel had left, she'd been wearing a broad grin.
Reaching down, Nick grabbed Judy's legs, bringing them up so they crossed his lap and she sat sideways on the bench seat. Paw stroking the silky fur on Judy's calf; Nick shrugged while wearing a smile. "She's used to kits, she had me, and I was a pawful."
"Some things never change." Judy teased, unable to resist.
Chuckling, Nick gave Judy's leg a gentle squeeze. "Always wounding me." The tod spared a glance around the room, spotting Bonnie and Stu nearby. "Bonnie, Stu." He called out to them, gesturing for them to come over. Nick watched as the doe and buck shared a look before they moved to join them. "Judy and I were wondering if we could perhaps steal a moment of your time. We have something we'd like to talk to you about." The fox kept his reasoning vague, but he still swallowed nervously.
Bonnie and Stu hid their smiles, and both mammals bobbed their heads in agreement. "Sure Nick, give us five minutes to make sure that Marian is okay with the kits and then we'll join you on the back porch." Bonnie offered, wanting to drag this out a little longer and torment them.
Agreeing, Nick and Judy waited for them to leave the room before they made to move. They'd decided to tell her parents soon, and she didn't want her fox suffering anymore, feeling like he couldn't touch her or kiss her in the public areas of the warren. Now was as good as any time to bring them up to speed. Once her parents knew, it wouldn't be long until all of her siblings found out and they'd face a litany of questions. Swinging her legs from Nick's lap, Judy stood, offering out her paw to her fox. He took it without hesitation, and they headed towards the back door, exiting the warren.
The cool evening air ruffled Judy's fur, and the doe gave her arms a quick rub to warm up. She'd forgotten how chilly it could get in Bunnyburrow during the winter. "How do you want to approach this?" She asked as she stood at the porch railings, looking out over the fields. Her night vision was poor compared to Nick's, but she knew the land so well that she could picture the trees in the distance. From the corner of her eye she spotted the support beam Nick had pressed her against last time they'd been here, when they'd finally shared their feelings and first kiss. The memory made her smile.
"They're your parents, you know them better." Nick moved the ball back to Judy's court, tail swishing with nervousness. He could feel the urge to stand close to Judy again, to reach out and touch her, kiss her and love her. He settled for standing by her side at the railing, tail flicking to wrap around her ankles.
Thinking it over, Judy decided on the best approach. Her parents were no-nonsense and didn't like being led on some wild chase for the truth. "We just have to be honest and come out with it."
"Come out with what?" Stu asked, having caught the end of Nick and Judy's conversation as he and Bonnie had stepped out onto the porch. Marian was settled with the kits, all of them enthralled with her story, so he and his wife had exchanged a knowing look before stepping outside.
Eyes widening, Judy spun on the spot, aware of Nick's tail and being careful not to step on it. "Oh, um, hi." The doe winced at how awkward she sounded, spotting the small movement of Nick's shoulders in her peripheral as he quietly snickered.
"What's bothering you, Judy?" Bonnie settled for the concerned mother act, taking the few steps towards her daughter and the tod so she could place a paw on Judy's shoulder, just as Nick turned to face her and her husband too.
Shaking her head, the corner of Judy's lips quirked upwards at how her mom automatically assumed something was wrong. "Nothing's bothering me." She reassured the other doe. Judy had to actively stop herself from thumping one of her hind paws. Though she was an adult, Judy felt like a kit now that she was faced with the prospect of telling her parents about her first serious relationship.
Tail still curled around Judy's ankles, Nick remained quiet, leaning back against the porch railing. He'd been the one to break the news to his mom; it was Judy's turn to break it to her parents. The tod wasn't completely heartless, though, and he reached out to grasp one of Judy's paws in his own, giving it a gentle squeeze. Violet eyes turned to find him, and Nick offered his mate a reassuring smile. He watched as she took a deep breath, never breaking away from his gaze.
Judy found comfort from Nick's touch, and courage from his gaze. "Nick and I are together." She declared, offering her fox a soft smile. If her parents objected she would fight for them, and if it made them uncomfortable then the doe was ready to leave and head back to the city. She loved her parents, and though she respected their opinion, she knew, deep down, that being with Nick was right. They were meant to be together.
"We know." Stu blurted out, earning himself a sharp thump to the chest from his wife.
Shaking her head, Bonnie tutted. "We were going to drag it out, Stu, and make them squirm!" She scolded lightly, turning her attention back to Nick and Judy, finding her daughter staring at them with slightly widened eyes and a slack jaw.
Nick wasn't overly surprised, he'd come clean to Bonnie and Stu about his feelings for Judy all those months ago in this very spot, but he hadn't kept them updated as to how his conversation with Judy had gone. He hadn't told them that they were dating or given them any indication that the conversation had gone well.
"You knew?" Judy turned to look at her parents, seeking clarification, wondering why they hadn't said anything before.
Nodding her head, Bonnie chuckled. "Of course we did, why do you think we kept pushing you two together?"
Judy blinked as everything started to make sense. "You were setting us up."
"Marian was in on it too, and so was Jasmine," Stu added, trying to spread the blame.
"You sent us back here to watch the house on purpose." Judy breathed, turning her attention to Nick. Her fox looked a little guilty. "Were you in on that too?"
A nervous smile crossed the tod's muzzle, "Last time we came to visit, after I panicked and before you came out here to speak with me, they found me out here." Nick admitted. "I told them about my feelings for you then, and they suggested I find an opportune moment to tell you…"
Scowling, the doe folded her arms over her chest. "Which just so happened to be when the fireworks went off?"
"I mean, it was kind of romantic if I do say so myself." Nick joked. He couldn't have timed it better if he'd tried.
Features softening, Judy couldn't be mad at her fox. Her parents, on the other paw… "Why didn't you say anything?" She turned her attention to them, lifting an eyebrow as the corners of her lips curved downwards.
Bonnie took the lead, not wanting her husband to put his hind paw in it again. "We just didn't want to be pushy." She explained. Judy was an adult, and though she still needed guiding every now and then, they tried to let her find her own way most of the time.
"Like that's stopped you before." The retort was out before Judy could stop it, and the does eyes widened as she realized how rude her comment was. Time away from her family and dealing with her boisterous coworkers had resulted in the doe learning to be a little sassier.
"Judith, don't get snippy with your mother. All we wanted to do was help." Stu scolded, noting that Judy's ears drooped as she apologized. Though his daughter was a grown mammal, she was still his kit, and he was well within his rights to tell her when she was overstepping the mark.
Sighing, Judy's shoulders dropped. While she appreciated that her parents had wanted to get her and Nick together, their way of going about it still made her uncomfortable. "I know... It's just frustrating that you guys went behind my back."
"Bun-bun, if we hadn't of set you up and forced you two to talk, you would've continued to dance around the issue and would've driven us all crazy in the process. I think it all worked out for the best in the end though, no?" Bonnie pointed out. While watching Nick and Judy try to navigate their feelings for one another had been endearing, it had also been frustrating. There had been many times when all Bonnie had wanted to do was smack their heads together and demand they kiss and get it over with.
Turning to look at her fox, violet found emerald and Judy's featured softened as she offered him a gentle smile. Head tilted to the side a little, the doe reached out for him with a paw, and Nick took it without a moment's hesitation. Her mom was right, they'd needed that little extra push, that small dose of courage, to get them to finally come clean with one another. Giving Nick's paw a squeeze, the doe took a step closer to him, letting him pull her into an embrace, her head resting against his chest as she tucked herself under his muzzle. "Yes. Yes it did."