A/N hey my loves, I'm back! I'm so sorry for the delay but real life ran away with me, and work is still kicking my butt. I'm not abandoning this story though, especially when we're not too far from the end! Updates might be slow, but they're coming :)
Thank you for all the reviews, favorites, and follows - they mean the world to me! I wish I could respond to everyone but I'd be here forever if I did. Know that I've read all your messages though and I'm grateful for you all ^_^
Love to Cimar and Uomo for helping me out with this chapter and giving me some amazing ideas. Couldn't have done it without you two!
Judy had forgotten what it was like to live in a warren, where there was no sunlight streaming in through the window to wake her each morning. Blinking, Judy woke feeling warm and comfortable, snuggled up with Nick in her small bed. Her mate had curled around her, long fluffy tail cocooning her, the tip close to her face. A smile wove across her lips as his reddish-orange fur fanned out every time she exhaled.
Snuggling back, Judy yawned, contemplating whether it was worth trying to fall back asleep. The clock on her nightstand read 7am, and the doe knew that soon the warren would come alive with the sound of her siblings anxious for their presents. She had other plans, though. Before bed, Judy had managed to grab a quiet moment with her mom to ask her if she and Nick could be a little late in joining them. Bonnie had frowned, confused, but when Judy had clarified that she wanted to give Nick his present in private, Bonnie had been more than understanding.
Now, the doe lay staring at her bag, discarded on the floor when she and Nick had made it back to her room last night. They'd been too tired to bother unpacking, and Judy's focus had been otherwise occupied on ensuring her fox was comfortable and wasn't struggling too much due to the season.
Feeling her mate shift behind her and hearing his heartbeat change, Judy reached out, her small fingers brushing through his soft tail fur. A deep purr reverberated through the still air, and the tip of Nick's tail flicked slowly every time she lightly ran her fingers across it. "Good morning." She broke the silence, voice a whisper as Nick's arm tightened around her.
"Morning, Carrots." Nick's eyes remained closed, and the tod stifled a yawn. He didn't particularly want to leave the comfort of Judy's kithood bed, but he knew that today he didn't stand a chance of being lazy. A warren full of hyperactive baby rabbits ready to open their presents awaited them.
Turning over, the doe buried her nose in Nick's extra fluffy fur. "Mom's given us an hour; she's pushing my litter a little further down the present opening queue."
Paws coming up to stroke down Judy's back, the tod frowned. "Why?" Given how family-oriented the Hopps family was, he'd figured their presence during present opening would be mandatory.
Pulling back just enough so she could tip her head and look up at her fox, Judy offered him a soft smile. "So I can give you your present away from prying eyes."
"Now you have me curious." Nick tried to play off his worry with a chuckle, but he still swallowed thickly. What did Judy have planned? Though his gifts for her were personal, he wasn't worried about her opening them in front of others. What had she got him?
Paws running through reddish-orange fur, Judy shook her head. "Don't be; it's fine." She felt the nerves creep up on her, but she stomped them down. What she'd bought Nick was perfect, and though it had been a nightmare to get hold of she knew it would be well received.
"Who wants to go first, then?" Nick stole a glance at the clock. Given how emotional his bunny was, the tod had a feeling she'd probably end up crying when he gave her his gift, and she'd need time to pull herself together before they ventured out of the room to spend time with her family.
Slowly extracting herself from the bed, Judy crossed to her bag. "I'll go first." She bit the bullet. Chewing on the inside of her lip as she found the neatly wrapped package in her luggage, Judy felt the weight of it in her paw. Turning back, she strode towards the bed, clambering up with ease to find Nick sat up, sheets pooled around his waist. Offering out the gold package, the doe smoothed down her ears once Nick had taken it from her.
Curious, the tod spent a moment feeling the item in his paws. There was a little weight to it but not much, and it was rectangular. It had been wrapped with care, decorated with a gold ribbon and a large bow. The little gold carrot tag on it made Nick smile, and he flipped it over to read the short message from his mate. With a claw, he cut the ribbon, and it fell away effortlessly, leaving him to struggle to get through the paper. "How much tape did you put on this?" He whined, prying it open.
"Enough to frustrate a fox." Judy shot back, hiding her grin. As Nick removed the paper, she watched him frown as he turned over the blank black box. The doe had purposefully placed the item in another container, not wanting to give too much away when it was initially unwrapped.
Turning the item over in his paws, it finally came to rest right way up, and Nick lifted the lid slowly.
He hadn't been expecting what was inside.
Jaw slackening, the tod blinked. Sat inside the box was a silver bracelet, similar to the one around Judy's wrist though more masculine in design, with two little charms on it.
"I know males don't wear them, but I wanted to get you one so that you know how serious I am about us. I wanted you to know for a fact that you're it for me, that I love you and I want to bond with you." Judy took a deep breath. She'd had a little script in her head for this moment, but the look on Nick's face as he lifted his gaze to find her eyes made the doe throw her rehearsed words away. "I hope that it might help alleviate your panic, too. Mine has helped me countless times." Subconsciously her paw moved to touch the silver around her wrist. "I know the charms are meant to represent how we met, but you already covered that. So instead, I changed it a little."
Moving a paw to touch the two charms, Nick's head tipped sideways with curiosity. How had Judy managed to convince Mr. Jackson to make a bracelet and go against tradition with the charms? "What do they mean?" He breathed, swallowing as he tried to push back the unexpected tears gathering in the corner of his eyes.
"The blueberry represents the moment I figured out that you love me. I was standing at Gid's stand with all the blueberry pies, and you were helping my dad. Gid brought up bonding, and the pieces all fell into place. It's also a reminder that I love you more than you love blueberries." Judy teased, earning a snort of amusement from her fox. "The fireworks are pretty self-explanatory."
Though still in shock that Judy had gifted him a bonding bracelet, Nick wasn't able to let the opportunity to make his mate squirm pass him by. "I don't think they are."
Judy could feel her cheeks growing warm. Her reason for picking the fireworks had been corny. "The fireworks from the closing ceremony were going off during our first kiss." She mumbled, playing with the end of one of her ears.
Feeling his heart swell, Nick abandoned his gift, blinking away his tears as he reached out to grab Judy. Their difference in size, and the fact he caught her off guard, enabled him to pick her up with ease, bringing her to rest in his lap. Paws cupping her cheeks, the tod pressed their lips together, pouring all of his love, affection, and his pent-up feelings from the season into their kiss.
He knew Judy loved him, knew it like he knew the sun would rise every morning, but this was a physical representation of it, something he could look at every day. Never in a million years had the tod thought that Judy would do something like this for him, but he couldn't deny that it was the most meaningful thing anyone had ever done for him. It added more weight to the decision he'd made on their way to Bunnyburrow.
Judy's scent flooded Nick's nostrils as he kissed her, and a low rumble started in his chest as his doe wiggled in his lap, her small paws grasping at him. The taste of her drove him crazy, tugged at the primal part of him that wanted nothing more than to throw her down on the bed and claim her, but he battled back the need, not willing to let the season ruin the moment.
Caught up in their kiss, Judy lost track of time. The world narrowed until all she could focus on was her fox. She'd guessed that her gift would pull a strong response from him, but she hadn't expected to see him almost cry over it.
"Thank you, Fluff," Nick whispered as he pulled back, both mammals trying to regain their breath. Paws smoothing down Judy's sides, Nick followed the curvature of her frame until he reached her hips. Squeezing gently, the tod offered his mate an affectionate smile. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"
Small paws holding Nick's muzzle, the doe traced his lips. "I ask myself the same question every day. I never thought I'd love a mammal as much as I love you."
"I'm not exactly the best catch in the world, Carrots." Nick shook his head, snorting. Their relationship had been through a lot of ups and downs, mostly due to the skeletons in his closet. Most mammals would've left at the first sign of trouble, they would've given him a wide berth and ghosted him out of their life. Judy had stuck with him, though, and had helped him turn his life around.
Disagreeing, Judy stopped tracing his lips and instead held his muzzle firmly, forcing him to meet her gaze. It still hurt her heart to hear him speak so lowly of himself, but she knew that it would take a lot more than a few months and some sweet words from her to change his opinion. All Judy could do was stand by his side, reassure him when he needed it, and remind him just how much she loved him. She hoped, with time, it would help change how he saw himself. The world had beaten him down, and she was trying her hardest to rebuild him. They'd already made immense progress, but there was still a long road ahead. "To me you are."
"Didn't your mom ever tell you it's rude to lie?" Nick quipped, uncomfortable with the compliment.
Refraining from rolling her eyes at Nick's deflection, Judy shook her head. "Didn't yours ever tell you that it's rude to steal?"
Frowning, Nick felt a stab of pain in his chest. Judy knew his story, and the tod thought she'd understood why he'd turned out the way he had. "I did what I had to do to survive."
"Not that, dumb fox." Judy quickly interjected, never wanting her mate to believe she thought badly of him for the things he'd done. Reaching out for one of his large paws, she brought it to rest on her chest, the steady thump of her heart beneath it. "This."
Nick's shoulders dropped, and his features softened, the flare of pain in his chest disappearing with his rabbit's words. He should've known she'd never make a jibe about his past, especially given the present she'd just handed him. "Oh Fluff, that's so sappy." He teased, earning himself a bashful shrug from his mate. Closing the small distance between them, he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead, lips lingering for a moment as he enjoyed their closeness and the feel of her heartbeat skittering beneath his paw. Her scent was incredible – sweet and strong – and Nick had to force down his urge to bite her and claim her and make her his in every sense of the word. "Emotional bunny." He whispered as he pulled back, needing to put some distance between them, his paw leaving Judy's chest as he reached for his bracelet.
"You don't have to wear it. It's more a keepsake than anything." Judy wouldn't be offended, and she didn't want Nick to be tormented by their peers and other members of society for going against the grain and wearing it.
Snorting in disbelief, Nick shook his head as he tried to fasten it around his wrist. "I know what goes into making one of these, Carrots. Of course, I'm going to wear it." He grunted, struggling to get the bracelet to fasten. Giving in, he offered it out to Judy, ignoring her amused expression as she took it from him, securing it around his wrist.
"You're not worried that someone might say something?" Judy double-checked as she finished fastening it, taking a moment to admire the blue of the blueberry and the red and gold of the firework. Mr. Jackson had outdone himself.
Brushing aside Judy's concerns, Nick knew any comments would be like water off a ducks back. "Not at all." He was used to mammals making snide comments and giving him funny looks. He'd wear his bonding bracelet with pride. "You know, your present neatly leads into mine."
"It does?" Judy frowned, eyebrows drawing down and together. What had Nick bought her?
Humming his confirmation, Nick looked over the bracelet now around his wrist. It didn't weigh much, but it was enough for him to notice, and it gave him a strange sense of comfort. Gaze moving to Judy, he lifted her up, placing her down on the bed before he left the confines of the sheets, making his way to his bag. Rummaging through it, he produced two gifts – one medium-sized and the other small. Both were wrapped in purple paper, and the curious expression on Judy's face as Nick handed them to her had the tod shrugging, ears flattening a little with embarrassment. "I know it's not very Christmassy, but it reminded me of your eyes."
Cooing as she took the presents, Judy gave Nick a moment to clamber back into bed before she spoke. "Now who's the sappy one?" She teased, weighing up the two packages. "Any particular order?"
"The bigger one first." Nick decided, believing the smaller present would pull the strongest reaction from his doe.
Judy gave the larger gift a gentle squeeze, and whatever was inside gave way underneath her paw. She spared a moment to try and work out what Nick could've possibly got her. He hadn't been home enough to see if she needed anything. Removing the decorative silver bow, Judy couldn't resist leaning over to smack the sticky side of it to Nick's bare chest, snickering as her mate stared down at it like it was poisonous. Returning her attention to the present, the doe undid the tape, noting that Nick wasn't as heavy-pawed with it as she was. Distracted, she missed Nick removing the bow from his chest. Destroying the last piece of tape, Judy tore at the paper to reveal a lilac colored jumper, with a scoop neck and a raised pattern of loops and interlocking geometric shapes on it.
"Mom has your size, so I borrowed it. I worked out the pattern myself, though." Nick explained, lifting a paw to tug nervously at one of his ears, scratching at it a moment later.
Blinking in surprise, Judy inhaled sharply as she put it all together. Gaze moving from the jumper to her slightly embarrassed looking mate, the corners of her lips started to curve upwards. "You made this?" She breathed, watching as Nick nodded. Looking down at the jumper in her lap, Judy ran her paws over it, enjoying the softness of the material and the fact that her fox had made this for her with his own two paws. He came from a family of tailors, so it shouldn't have surprised Judy, but she knew that it hadn't been his thing since his father had died. "It's beautiful." Judy could feel tears starting to gather in the corner of her eyes. Sure Gram Gram had knitted her jumpers when she'd been a kit, and Marian made her new clothes all the time now, but this wasn't Nick's strong suit, and it held a lot of painful memories for him. Memories he'd pushed aside for her. Moving the jumper so as not to crumple it, the doe reached out for her mate, pulling him into a strong hug, pressing herself as to close to him as possible. "Thank you, Slick."
"It's not much." Nick protested, giving himself over to Judy's embrace, wrapping his arms around her to hold her tightly.
Shaking her head as best she could, Judy disagreed. "It's everything." She pulled back from their embrace enough so that she could press their lips together in a tender kiss, the doe trying to convey just how much the jumper meant to her. Sitting back, she removed her nightshirt, rolling her eyes at Nick's rumble of appreciation as she gave him an eyeful, before she pulled the jumper on, violet eyes closing in bliss at the softness of the garment.
Nick had thought it couldn't get better than seeing his mate in the clothes his mom had made, but seeing her in something he'd made? His paws clenched at the bed sheets, claws catching the fabric as he battled back his lust. The urge to reach out and touch her was intense.
In tune with her fox, Judy's eyes opened to find him struggling. Reaching out, she stroked the back of her fingers across his cheek, offering him a soft smile. Taking one of his paws with her free one, she brought it to her waist, hoping the physical contact would help soothe Nick. As his shoulders dropped with relief, Judy picked up the smaller gift, feeling her mate start to gently stroke her side.
It didn't take her long to undo the wrapping, and she refrained from sticking the bow to Nick again. This time, when the paper fell away, she was met with a black box similar to the one Nick's bracelet had been in. Head tipping sideways in curiosity, her ears flopped over. Pushing the lid up, Judy gasped as she caught sight of the item inside, ears drooping. "Oh, Nick…"
"I know you're not a big jewelry person, but I thought this might be better." The tod shrugged, nerves clawing at his insides. It felt like nothing compared to the moment he'd given her the bonding bracelet, but it was still enough to make him bite down on his lower lip, his paw on her waist tightening.
Nick's wording confused the doe, and she pulled her gaze from the silver necklace inside the box long enough to find the emerald eyes of the mammal she loved. "Better?"
Paw leaving Judy's side, Nick ran his fingers over the bracelet around her wrist. "I know you've received a lot of abuse because of this, and I know that it's essentially me marking you as mine. We're working on my possessiveness, though, and I don't want you to have to listen to any more slurs." With his other paw, he touched the pendant in the box. "This is simply a token of my affection; there are no possessive connotations to it."
"I'm not taking my bracelet off. I don't care about mammals throwing slurs at me; I don't care if people stare. It's part of your culture. I love it, and I love you." Judy put her hind paw down. She couldn't imagine being without her bracelet. Looking down at her gift, she sniffled, feeling the tears threatening again. "I love this too, and I love what it represents, how far you've come."
"How far we've come." Nick corrected. Both of them had grown since they'd met.
Agreeing, Judy spent a moment admiring the shape of the pendant. "How did you find this?" She whispered, paw moving to stroke the cold metal.
"Well, you see, I intend to bond with this amazing rabbit. She's got these beautiful violet eyes, likes to see the good in every mammal, oh and she likes to do her homework…a trait which might be rubbing off on me." Nick could sense that tears were imminent, so he pitched for humor instead. His attempt was futile as tears started to roll down Judy's cheeks, falling and splashing on her gift. "Emotional bunny." He teased, wiping away her tears.
Snort laughing; Judy sniffled as she let Nick wipe away her tears. The pendant in her lap was shaped like a heart, but engraved on it was a looping pattern that continued from its shape to form another smaller heart, that in turn interlocked with a smaller rounded upside down heart – an old rabbit symbol for 'mate.' It hadn't been used much since they'd become a civilized species, but every rabbit was taught about it in their high school history classes. Removing the necklace from the box, she offered it out to Nick, her ears pricking upright. As her fox fastened it around her neck, their noses booped together, making Judy laugh. The pendant came to rest between her collarbones and the cold metal contrasted with her warm fur. Before Nick could pull away, the doe stole another kiss. "I love it. I love them both. I love you," she whispered against his lips.
Nick melted. His rabbit was playing with his heart like it was putty, and it felt incredible. He looked at her for a short while, imprinting the moment to his memory, to call upon should things ever get rough. He couldn't get enough of her soft smile, filled with love and gratitude, or her button nose, wiggling with emotion, and her wide violet eyes, sparkling with unshed tears of appreciation. It would never cease to amaze him how many times he could fall in love with her again every day.
Leaning forward, Nick stole yet another kiss from her. It started slow, just their lips connecting with each other, but soon both mammals began pushing for more. Judy licked Nick's lips with her small tongue, seeking his larger and rougher one to deepen their kiss. She didn't have to wait long; Nick opened his mouth almost instantaneously. His already touch-starved body, coupled with the seasonal hormones, made it impossible for him to deny her. At the same time, the fox started caressing Judy's thighs, wanting to feel as much of the doe as he could.
A small shiver ran down Judy's spine as Nick's claws brushed her fur and teased her flesh, making her release a soft moan into her mate's mouth.
That did him in. Moving his paws to her rear, Nick brought her back onto his lap, focusing his ministrations on her butt and her short, fluffy tail. Not one to be outdone, Judy moved one paw behind Nick's head to scritch lightly behind his ears, while the other slowly caressed his chest, blunt claws running through coarse fur.
A familiar low rumble started in Nick's throat, and he deepened their kiss even more. Judy wouldn't believe it possible if she wasn't experiencing it right that moment. His tongue fought for domination over hers, and he started raking her back with his claws, causing the doe to shiver under them. Nick's nostrils flared when the unmistakable scent of arousal started coming from his rabbit.
However, the doe couldn't be blamed. Who wouldn't be excited by their mate hitting almost every sweet spot they had? It wasn't like Nick was fairing much better either. From where Judy was sat on his lap, she was in very close contact with his groin, and a familiar bulge was starting to make its presence known.
Judy knew this couldn't go in the direction they both desperately wanted it to. Present opening was about to start, and if they didn't show up her family would ask questions she didn't want to answer. Regretfully pulling away, she heard Nick whine as she broke their kiss. "We should go and join the others." Judy didn't want to leave their little bubble; she was far too content to spend the day in bed with her fox.
Nick knew it would be rude for them to ignore Judy's family. "You're right." He huffed, nostrils flaring as he savored the sweet smell of his mate. Begrudgingly he moved Judy from his lap and rolled out of bed, stretching as he stood. Judy joined him, and the pair dressed slowly, enjoying their last few minutes of bliss together before they faced the fluffle.
"Ahh, here they are." Marian couldn't help but announce loudly as her kit and Judy tried to slip quietly into one of the many living rooms in the warren. When Bonnie had told her that the two of them had wanted some time alone this morning the vixen had snickered, hiding her smile behind her paw.
"Ju-Ju! Mister Nick!" Sasha abandoned her position on the floor by her littermates, rushing across the room to throw herself at her sister and her favorite fox.
Reactions sharpened from the academy; Nick opened his arms in time to catch Sasha, scooping her up and swinging her around. The baby bunny shrieked happily, hind paws kicking through the air as Nick turned her around until he finally put her down. "Hey Cinnamon." He cooed, smoothing down her ears.
"Look what Susie got me!" Sasha grabbed Nick's paw, dragging him through the crowd of rabbits and towards the tree. Her littermate had bought her some coloring books, filled with images of all her favorite princesses. "This is Moolan, and this is Rabunzel, oh and this is my absolute favorite princess, Mareida!" Sasha chattered away happily, showing Nick the pictures in her coloring book.
Marian watched from her spot on the floor as her kit was dragged across the room, hiding her amusement. As Nick took the coloring book from Sasha, his sleeve slid up, and Marian caught a flash of silver around his wrist. The vixen barely contained her gasp, eyes widening. Finding Judy amongst her siblings, Marian noted the necklace around her neck. The vixen had been tasked with picking up the item from Mr. Jackson, so was very familiar with it. Nick and Judy had exchanged gifts in private, and Judy had bought her son a bonding bracelet?
"Are you okay, Marian?" Sat next to Marian, Jasmine had heard her small inhale. Concern was etched on her face as she looked over the vixen, making sure she wasn't physically hurt in any way. The question had everyone in the room turning to look at them, including Nick and Judy.
Uncomfortable now that she was the center of attention, Marian shook her head, composing herself. "I'm okay, just sat on my hind paw funny." She brushed aside the doe's concern, offering an apologetic smile to everyone in the room. Nick caught her gaze though, and the small tilt of his head made the vixen feel momentarily sorry for lying, but he was soon pulled back into the conversation about princesses and Marian's shoulders slumped with relief. She'd have to get Nick alone later and ask him about the bracelet.
It took two hours for the remaining presents to be opened, and by the end of it, every mammal in the warren had a small pile of goodies. Bonnie and Stu had gone out to purchase a few gifts for Marian and Nick, not wanting them to miss out and only have gifts from each other and Judy. Now that the warren was filled with scraps of wrapping paper and the sound of kits playing with their new toys, Bonnie turned her attention to their guests. "Nick, dear, how are you in the kitchen?" She quizzed, hoping he'd be able to partake in one of the Hopps Christmas traditions. In her peripheral, the matriarch caught sight of Judy shaking her head.
"Okay, I guess. Still learning." Nick opted for an honest answer, feeling a weight settle in his gut. What did Bonnie have planned?
"Oh, that's perfect then! You see, there's this tradition whereby any guest we have at Christmas is to be my sous chef…" The doe watched Nick closely, hiding her smile as she saw him swallow, a flicker of fear crossing his face.
Unable to resist another chance to tease her kit, Marian laughed. "Do you have warren insurance, Bon?"
Unamused, Nick scowled at his mom while she and Bonnie chuckled together. "I'm an acceptable cook." He protested, turning his gaze to Judy. "Right, Fluff?"
"The few times you've cooked for me, it's been great." Judy conceded, figuring it was best to flatter her fox to get him into the kitchen. She didn't dare mention the mess he'd left behind in his wake, though.
Standing, Bonnie helped Marian up before she turned her attention to Nick. "I'll be the judge of that. Come on." She instructed, leading the way through the maze of hallways to the warrens huge kitchen, each mammal bringing their little pile of gifts with them. Stashing their presents in the corner of the kitchen, all eyes swung to Bonnie as she took control, putting on her apron. "Okay Nick, here's your apron." She grabbed for Stu's, knowing her husband's slightly rounded figure meant the apron was a little larger than intended for a rabbit.
"Do I really need to wear it?" Nick eyed the item suspiciously.
"Do you want food all over your shirt?" Bonnie asked in return, quirking an eyebrow.
Pursing his lips together in contemplation, Nick could feel his mom and Judy staring at him, the two ladies having taken up positions on the other side of the island counter to watch him work.
Spotting a way to ensure her fox would put on the apron, and provide her and Marian with a chuckle, Judy spoke up. "I bought you that shirt."
Glancing down at the Pawaiian shirt he had on, Nick grumbled under his breath. Judy was right. He couldn't let it get dirty when she'd lovingly picked it out for him. "Fine, I'll wear the apron." He conceded, holding out his paw for the offending item.
Bonnie suppressed her smile as Nick took the apron from her, watching as he passed it over his head and tied the strings at the back. His size difference to Stu meant the item was a little tight, and the matriarch felt a bit guilty for making the tod wear it, but the look of amusement she could see on her daughters face eradicated all of that guilt.
"So most of the food has been prepared – I like to do things ahead of time – but there are a few things I'll need your help with." Bonnie reached for the notepad she kept next to the stove, flicking through her scribbles. "We have potato and sweet potato dauphinoise left to make." She put down her notepad and pen on the island counter as she moved to the fridge to gather the ingredients.
Completely lost, Nick stood at the stove, where Bonnie had left him, and looked over his shoulder to catch the violet eyes he loved so much. "Dauphinoise?" He mouthed, baffled. At least Bonnie had given him a clue that the dish somehow involved potatoes.
Though the grey bunny was well aware of what dauphinoise was, she shrugged, pretending not to know. It was a traditional rule that the sous chef wasn't allowed outside help, and as much as Judy loved her fox, she loved not having her tail whacked with her moms cooking spoon even more. Reaching for her mom's notepad and pen once Nick had returned his attention to the stove and the pile of ingredients her mom had put down, the doe scribbled a quick note to Marian, informing her of the rule.
Glancing down at the note slid across to her, Marian bit down on her lower lip. Her son was well out of his depth, and the vixen knew it would be difficult to hold back on offering assistance.
Taking the vegetable peeler that Bonnie offered him; Nick started to peel the potatoes, making sure that he removed all of the skin. The task was more time consuming than he'd anticipated, but as a kit, he'd watched his mom perform this task hundreds of time, so he was quick to pick it up and find a rhythm. Once the regular potatoes were done, he turned his attention to the sweet potatoes, finding them a little more challenging to peel. From the corner of his eye, he saw Bonnie put a colander down next to him, and he paused his peeling to put the potatoes in it, adding the sweet potatoes as he worked, until the colander was full.
Putting down the peeler, he carried the colander to one of the sinks, figuring they'd need to be rinsed. The tod was winging it, trying to emulate his mom, and she'd always been keen on washing fruit and veg. Giving the potatoes a quick rinse, the tod returned to his place at the counter, finding a chopping board and a knife where he'd left his peeler and the potato skins.
"You're better at this than you give yourself credit for." The Hopps matriarch complimented as she watched Nick remove a few potatoes from the colander, putting them down on the chopping board before he picked up the knife.
Snorting, the tod stared at the potatoes, unsure how he was meant to cut them. "All you have me doing is prepping vegetables, Bonnie. It's not like I could mess that up too much." He turned the potato on the chopping board over, biting the inside of his lip.
"Don't forget to make the layers nice and even because we need to make sure the milk and cream fills all the gaps." The doe threw Nick a small lifeline, knowing he was smart and would pick up on it.
Connecting the dots, Nick started to cut the potato into thin slices, stacking them on the counter ready to layer in a dish. He could feel the weight of Judy's gaze on his back, and his ears honed in on the conversation between his mom and Bonnie. The two ladies were discussing plans for the rest of the day. Focusing his attention back on his work, he kept chopping, wanting to make sure every slice was the same thickness. He was mid-chop when a shriek from the dining room pierced the air.
The sudden noise made Nick jump, and the knife clipped his finger. A sharp yip of pain slipped from between his lips as he shoved his finger into his mouth, hoping to stem the blood flow from the small cut.
Hearing Nick's noise of pain, Judy was up and out of her seat, rushing around the island counter to her mate. "Careful Slick, you need your fingers." She reached up to pry his fingers from his mouth, checking the wound.
The sight of his mate tending to his injury had a low rumble starting in the tod's chest, a wave of lust barreling through him. "Damn straight I do." His voice dropped an octave, emerald finding violet as Judy looked up at him in surprise.
Clearing her throat, Bonnie stared at Judy and Nick. The matriarch wasn't a prude, not in any sense of the word, but an opportunity to tease her daughter and Nick was worth taking.
Nick's eyes widened at the sound from Bonnie, reminding him of where he was. "For writing up tickets for bad mammals, and driving, and holding my tranq gun, and…"
"Scratching Judy's itches." Bonnie cut him off.
Mortified, Judy's ears dropped in time with her jaw. "Mom!" She hissed, stealing a quick glance around the room to make sure none of her younger siblings were around. The last thing she wanted to do was have to explain to them what their mom meant.
"We can smell you two a mile off." Marian chipped in, having been doodling on the notepad once she'd been confident that Judy was taking care of her son's injury. Her maternal instincts had wanted her to move and tend to him herself, but she knew he was old enough to cope with a cut, and Judy would probably be able to offer him more comfort.
Pulling her ears over her eyes to hide her blush, Judy groaned. "Not helping."
Wafting a hand through the air, Bonnie brushed aside Judy's protest as she moved to one of the many cupboards to collect a dish. "It's a mother's prerogative to embarrass her kit. Besides, it's nothing your father and I haven't-"
"MOM!" Judy interrupted, ears springing up as she held out her paws in a stop gesture, violet eyes wide. The doe was comfortable with the topic, she had to be in such a large household, but she didn't need to know the more delicate details of her parent's intimacy. She could hear Nick chuckling behind her, and she let the tod grasp one of her paws in his.
"What haven't we done, Bon?" Stu quizzed, having caught his wife's comment as he'd come through the back door. He'd had to leave just before the end of the present opening to head across town and pick up Pop Pop. Last night, once everyone had gone to bed, he and Bonnie had stayed up late talking about the best way to keep Pop Pop away from Nick and Marian. The old rabbit still held onto his prejudices and they hadn't wanted their guests to feel uncomfortable. In the end, they'd agreed to quickly introduce them and then lead Pop Pop away, where he'd be distracted by his grandkits. At lunch, he'd be seated as far away from the Wilde family as possible.
Leaning heavily on his walking stick, Pop Pop shuffled into the kitchen. "What's all the ruckus?" He demanded, old eyes narrowing behind his glasses as he scanned the room. The elderly rabbit scowled as he noticed the two predators in the kitchen. "What on earth are they doin' here? You know they eat us!"
"Used to. We live in harmony now." Bonnie sighed, putting down the dish she'd collected from one of the cupboards.
Shaking his walking stick in the direction of the two predators, Pop Pop disagreed. "They're designed to kill us. You know, foxes are red because they're made by the devil!"
"We're not even religious, so I don't know why you keep bringing up the devil." Bonnie rolled her eyes, aware that they needed to get rid of Pop Pop now. Giving her husband the stink eye, she gestured with her chin towards the dining area.
Grabbing the elderly rabbits elbow, Stu attempted to guide him away from the kitchen. He knew following his wife's wishes would make everything more comfortable for their guests, but Pop Pop was defiant.
"I ain't done here, Stuart." Pop Pop objected, and though he was old and a little frail, he moved his elbow out of Stu's grasp.
Marian had experienced her fair share of verbal abuse in the past, you didn't campaign for pred rights and marry their poster mammal without having a few slurs thrown your way, but she'd never expected a member of Judy's family to have such a strong adverse reaction to her and her kit. Surprised by Pop Pop's outburst, the vixen was frozen in her seat.
Instinct had Judy moving between Pop Pop and Nick, taking up position right in front of her mate, as the old rabbit's eyes found her fox. Standing defiant, the grey bunny felt Nick's tail brush against her ankles, and she watched as her grandfather looked between them, eyes hardening when he saw their joined paws.
"You better not be rolling around in them barns with a fox, Judith. Surely you'd rather be with a nice buck. Say, I know a couple that would be great." The old buck shook his walking stick at his granddaughter. She'd always been too out there and always wanted more than a rabbit was meant to have.
Giving Nick's paw a squeeze, the doe found strength from his presence behind her. She loved Pop Pop, but his old views were harmful and wrong. Opening her mouth to speak, Judy was cut off by her mate.
"Judy deserves better than a barn to roll around in, Sir." Nick kept his tone as polite as possible, though under the surface he was itching to be sarcastic and snide.
Raising a paw, Pop Pop pointed a finger at the fox stood behind his granddaughter. "Judith deserves better than a fox, too."
"You're probably right." Nick shrugged, noticing that Judy had turned her head to look at him, lips parted in surprise. However, he kept his gaze on the old rabbit. "But she's an adult, with her own thoughts and opinions, and she's able to make her own decisions. I might not be the best mate in your opinion, or anyone else's for that matter, but Judy's decided that I am. I'm not going to question her decision because I trust her and her ability to weigh up the pros and cons and decide what's right for her. You have every right to be concerned about her, she's your granddaughter and you love her, and you only want the best for her, but you have to trust her. To you the best for her might be some young buck, but would Judy think that's the best for her? Would that make her happy?"
Shaking her head, Judy looked away from her mate, finding Pop Pop observing them, a look in his eyes that she'd never seen before. "It wouldn't make me happy. I can't think of anything worse than being tied down to a buck. He'd probably want me to give up the job I love, move back from the city, and spend the rest of my days carrying his kits. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, it's just not me. It's not what I want from life."
Tightening his grip on Judy's paw, the tip of Nick's tail flicked, brushing over her hind paws. "She's not a kit who can't make up her own mind. Sure at times she can be reckless and make snap decisions, but I also know that she does her homework. Judy knew exactly what she was getting herself into with me and she's not run away, she's not abandoned me, and even if you make my time here hell, even if you continue to my species until the end of time, I'm not abandoning her. She's too important to me. She means too much to me." Nick made his stance known, cutting off the old rabbit before he could say anything else.
"These old notions you have are harmful, Pop Pop," Judy spoke up, slowly letting go of Nick's paw so she could take a few steps towards her grandfather. "Things have changed, we've all changed. I thought Zootopia was this perfect place where no bad could happen, and I only ever saw the good in mammals. Nick taught me that isn't always the case, and that we're all capable of doing bad things, even if we don't mean to. That's part of life. We grow and we learn from our mistakes. We pick ourselves back up and we try again." Judy's mind flashed back to the press conference, to the subconscious prejudice she'd had.
Taking a few steps forward, Nick came to a stop behind Judy, sliding an arm around her waist as he spoke to her grandfather. "I was the lowest rung on the ladder, the very bottom of the totem pole, until Judy crashed into my life and made me realize that all it takes is one mammal to believe in you for you to change your life. She taught me to believe in myself, made me see that I'm enough, that I deserve to be treated just like any other mammal. I may have taught Judy a thing or two, but I've learned a lot from her in return."
"I never thought I'd have a family again," Marian spoke up, having been silent since Pop Pop's arrival, too shocked and then too worried to say anything. "After my husband passed and it was just Nicky and me, I thought that would be my family until the end, that my kit would be alone once I'm gone." The vixen shook her head. "Until they both showed up on my doorstep, until I saw the way they look after one another, support one another, and love one another." Marian's gaze moved from Pop Pop to her kit and his mate. "When Nicky brought Judy home, he wasn't just bringing her home, he was bringing all of you too." Marian spared a glance around the room at Bonnie and Stu, and even to Pop Pop. "You're my family now, species be damned."
Pop Pop's gaze moved between Nick and Marian. While it seemed most of his family had taken to them, the old buck had heard too many tales about savage predators in his youth, especially the dangers of foxes, to be won over yet. "I still ain't too sure. You talk a good game, but I don't know if you can walk the walk too."
"I'll vouch for them." Julian appeared at the top of the stairs that led down to the dining area. He'd heard the shriek of one of his siblings and had come to check out the noise, several others in tow, and then he'd heard Pop Pop's arrival. Given the keenness of rabbit and fox hearing, the buck had remained silent, instructing his siblings to do the same, while they'd listened in on the conversation.
Taking the final step up to join her littermate in the kitchen, Jasmine stood by Julian's side. "Me too. Nick and Marian have been wonderful towards us."
"And me." Hazel reached the top step with Sasha in her arms. The young doe had spent the previous evening with Marian. She'd shown her all of the clothes she'd been working on, and the two ladies had talked well into the night. Marian had taught her some new sewing techniques and had written down a few tips for her too.
Squirming in her sister's arms, Sasha scowled at Pop Pop. "I like Mister Nick and Missus Marian. Lots of us do."
"Nick and Marian don't have to prove anything to you, Pop Pop," Stu commented. "Marian has been nothing but gracious and kind, looking after our Jude in the city, making sure she's eating well and sleepin' properly, and keeping her in beautiful clothes. As for Nick, he loves Jude and she loves him. Couldn't ask for better than that. Whatever goes on between them is between them; it's not our place to get involved. They're not hurting anyone and they're happy. Isn't that what we all want for Jude? Nick's already proven himself over and over again, so cut the boy some slack. You may be her grandfather, but I'm her father, and I couldn't think of a better mammal for our Jude to be with." Stu tugged at the straps of his overalls, rocking on the balls of his hind paws as he spared a glance to the tod.
Still unconvinced, but seeing that he was outnumbered, the old rabbit shook his head, turning his focus towards the stairs. "We'll see." He muttered, shuffling forwards, reaching out for the handrail with his free paw.
Though both a little frustrated with their grandfather, Jasmine and Julian didn't want to risk him falling down the stairs and hurting himself, so the littermates went to his aid, helping him down to the dining room. Hazel and Sasha followed behind them, ready to start gathering their siblings for lunch.
Once Pop Pop was out of sight, Nick's shoulder's dropped, and the tod let out a small sigh. "Thank you, Stu." He offered the buck a smile while he tightened his hold around Judy's waist, pulling her back flush to his front.
"Anytime, son." The term of endearment slipped off Stu's tongue with ease, and the buck reached out to pat Nick on the shoulder as he passed him, heading towards the family rooms to check on some of his kits. The warren had been uncharacteristically quiet for a while, and that usually meant trouble.
Marian's ears pricked at Stu's comment, and the vixen blinked in surprise. She'd known that Nick and Stu got along well, had heard from both of them that they enjoyed one another's company, but to hear Stu call her kit 'son brought a smile to her face. Since his fathers passing, Nick had been without a strong male role model in his life. Stu was now filling that gap, and Marian couldn't be more grateful that the buck had taken her boy under his wing. She'd tried to raise a well-rounded tod, but some things could only be learned from a father-like figure.
Turning his attention back to the kitchen and the work he'd been doing, Nick went to resume when Bonnie shook her head, batting his paws away from the utensils before she started to undo the ribbon at the back of his apron.
"I've got this." Bonnie insisted as the apron straps came loose.
Having no choice but to wiggle out of the apron as Bonnie pulled it over his head, Nick frowned. "But it's tradition." He was perfectly capable of carrying on with his work. He wasn't that bad of a sous chef.
"One that can be broken this year. Go and relax in one of the family rooms, please." Bonnie shooed Nick, Judy, and Marian from the kitchen. They probably all needed a moment, and the doe wanted an opportunity to speak to her husband alone once he returned. Though they loved Pop Pop, they needed a better plan. They wouldn't force the old rabbit into liking Nick and Marian, but at the same time, they didn't want him making their guests uncomfortable. Perhaps a sit-down discussion with him once all the kits were in bed was the way forward, so long as he didn't fall asleep from all the food and elderflower wine first.
Grabbing Nick's paw as they left the kitchen, Judy pulled him to a stop. "Little doe's rooms, I'll be right back." She pushed up onto the balls of her hind paws to plant a kiss on his muzzle before she disappeared down another corridor.
Mother and son left alone, they made their way into one of the family rooms, finding it surprisingly vacant. Taking his seat on one of the couches, Nick sank back into the soft fabric, eyes closing.
"Nicky." Marian took the spot next to her son, reaching out with a paw to touch his shoulder.
Emerald eyes opening, the tod looked to his mom, a frown crossing his features a moment later as he saw concern etched across her face. "It's okay, mom, I'm used to it." Nick shrugged, not wanting her to worry about the things Pop Pop had said. After spending most of his life on the street, there were very few insults the tod hadn't heard.
The vixen shook her head, moving her paw to take her sons wrist. "What's this about?" She brushed a thumb over the bracelet, noting the charms. She knew the story of how her kit and Judy had become a couple, so they came as no surprise to her. "It's not very traditional."
Quirking an eyebrow, Nick wondered where his mom was going with this. She'd been one of the biggest cheerleaders of his relationship with Judy. "Carrots and I aren't very traditional anyway." He pointed out, knowing that their pred/prey pairing made them an oddity.
"True." Marian agreed, moving to take Nick's paw in her own. Emerald met emerald and the vixen offered her son a small smile. "What if others mammal say something when they see it?" She couldn't shake the fear that her son would be targeted like her husband had been.
Though the tod understood his mom's concern and knew it stemmed from her fear, the thought of mammal's saying something didn't bother him. They'd always talk and would always find something cruel to say. "Like they've been saying things to Judy?"
The vixen couldn't argue with that. She'd heard several stories about Judy receiving verbal abuse from mammals on the street because of her decision to wear her bonding bracelet. "You're right. I guess I was just caught off guard, that's all."
"What do you mean?" Nick couldn't hide the confusion from his voice, eyebrows drawing together. What was there to be caught off guard about?
Letting go of her kit's paw, Marian examined the bracelet a little more closely. She could see that Judy had put considerable thought into the design. "Mr. Jackson wouldn't have made this for her without some serious convincing, you know how stubborn that mammal is. Whatever she told him, it must have been impressive."
"It's a conversation I would've liked to see." Nick snorted, shaking his head. Mr. Jackson was a stubborn old mammal, but his bunny could be just as determined. Once his exams were over and he'd been sworn in as an officer, Nick would pay him a visit and try to get the story out of him.
Chuckling, Marian agreed. Bonding bracelets were so important to their species, and Judy was well aware of that, so the fact she'd gifted Nick one made the vixen excited for the future. There was only one logical step forward. "Things are getting quite serious, eh?"
"I think things were serious the moment I gave her her bracelet." Nick deadpanned.
Unable to argue with that again, Marian nodded. Lifting a paw to cup her kits muzzle, she had to tamper down her grin. "Just, don't make me wait too long for grandkits, okay?"
Letting out a long-suffering sigh, Nick was used to his mom pestering him now. He knew she meant well, but he and Judy weren't ready for that yet. "I want to claim her first, and bond with her, and marry her."
Wafting her free paw through the air, Marian let go of Nick's muzzle. "Details, details." She brushed his concerns aside with a smile.
"What details?" Judy entered the family room, catching the tail end of the conversation. She'd been gone a little longer than intended, as on her way back from the bathroom she'd been accosted by Jasmine. Her sister had informed her that she'd positioned Pop Pop as far away as possible from her, Nick, and Marian for lunch.
Before Marian could respond, Sasha came bowling into the room, shoving past Judy. "Lunch is ready! Mister Nick, can I sit next to you pretty please?" The baby rabbit bounced on the spot, large eyes focused on her favorite fox. Since she and Nick had become friends, her siblings had started to include her more during playtime, and she was feeling a lot more confident about her art.
Relieved that he and his mom didn't have to lie to Judy, Nick silently thanked Sasha for her impeccable timing. "Sure Cinnamon, so long as I can have Ju-Ju on my other side." He bargained, wanting to make sure his mate was with him for their first Christmas lunch together.
"She's always by your side, so there's no change there." Sasha rolled her eyes, a bad habit she was picking up from Julian, and crossed the room to grab one of Nick's paws. Giving it a tug, she tried to haul him off of the couch.
Nick went willingly, letting the small rabbit tug him off the sofa and out of the room, and through the labyrinth of corridors. Behind him, he could hear Judy and Marian's pawsteps and their combined laughter. The tod didn't bother to hide his grin as he was dragged towards the kitchen and dining room.