A/N Hello my dears, I'm not dead! Its been a while since I last updated tho. Sorry its taken me so long to get this next chapter out. I had about 80% of it done a month ago but at the very end there's some smut (not on this site though, clean version and all) and my muse didn't want to cooperate. I forced her back into line this weekend though and we're ready to go! If you wanna read the unclean version of this chapter go find me on archiveofourown under the same pen name.
Thank you for all the love/PM's/reviews/follows/favorites in my absence, it means the world to me! :)
"You'll come back and see us soon, right?" Jasmine whispered in her sister's ear, holding her close. Though they Muzzletimed regularly and sent one another care packages, nothing could compare to having her littermate by her side.
Pulling back from her sister just enough so she could catch her gaze, Judy gave a sharp nod, her large ears smoothed down as she tried not to get emotional. In truth, there wasn't that much physical distance between them – just a few hours on the train – but with Judy's grueling work schedule and with Nick soon joining her at the precinct, it would be a while until they'd be able to book time off and travel to the countryside again. Glancing over her sister's shoulder, the doe watched Nick work his way through his own goodbyes.
Crouched down, the tod held onto the baby bunny in his arms, her little nose buried in the fluffy fur on his neck. Since waking this morning, Sasha had followed him around the warren like a small shadow, mirroring his every move.
"Will you keep sending me letters please, Mister Nick?" Sasha murmured, snuggling closer to the fox, still wholly unafraid of him. She'd kept every letter the tod had sent her so far and had tucked away safely in a box under her bed. Though Nick would only be returning to the academy briefly to take his exams, Sasha couldn't imagine not receiving any more notes from him.
Holding back his chuckle, Nick didn't dare hide his smile. "Sure, Cinnamon." It was no issue for the tod to continue sending her letters, but he hoped that Bonnie and Stu would start giving her greater access to their phones and one of the warren's many computers. Though Nick enjoyed handwritten letters, he had a feeling that his first few months at the precinct would give him little time to sit and compose something. Texts and emails were much quicker, and he could send them on the go.
"You better pass your exams so you can be Officer Mister Nick." Sasha insisted, pulling back from Nick so she could look into his eyes, trying to convey her seriousness. It didn't take a smart bunny to figure out that sometimes Nick didn't fully believe in himself or his abilities, so Sasha was more than content to believe it for him.
Lifting a paw he crossed his heart, vowing that he would pass his exams. The tod was a little terrified of them, of what his future would look like if he failed. However, he had one advantage over his fellow cadets. Hearing the sound of Judy's approach, the fox turned to offer her a smile. With her by his side, how could he fail?
"Ready, Slick?" Judy glanced back to the small gathering of family members behind them, watching as Marian said her final goodbyes to Bonnie and Stu. The three of them would no doubt keep in touch, but with Marian's work schedule it would probably be a while before she could escape to the countryside again too. The break had done the vixen some good though, and Judy loved how her family had taken to Marian so quickly.
Rising up to his full height, Nick ruffled the fur on the top of Sasha's head, earning himself an eye roll and a fond smile from the baby bunny. "Born ready, Fluff." He swallowed the lump in his throat, seeing the wetness start to gather in Sasha's eyes. He didn't want a repeat of last time when she'd sobbed uncontrollably as he'd left, but Nick didn't have anything to give her again as a reminder that he'd be back soon. Paw moving, Nick pulled Sasha close, pressing a reassuring kiss to the top of her head. "I'll come back again soon, and in the meantime, we can write to one another and use MuzzleTime." He bargained, knowing it was falling on deaf ears as Sasha's arms wrapped around his waist, the little doe clinging to him.
Having said her farewells, Marian made to join her son and Judy, but seeing Sasha clutching at her boy made her pause. Nick had impacted the lives of all those in the Hopps warren whether he'd intended to or not, and he'd very quickly become a member of the family. Now that their trip was over, the vixen felt like she was part of the family too. Keeping her approach slow so as not to startle Sasha, Marian crouched down beside the crying bunny, reaching out to gently smooth down her large ears. "Nicky will be back soon, I promise." She soothed as the memories of the first day she'd dropped her son off at nursery played through her mind. The separation anxiety had made him cry too.
"I know." Sasha sniffled, feeling a little silly for getting so emotional, especially with her family watching. She couldn't help it though. Nick had bolstered her confidence and encouraged her passion for drawing. It was hard to say goodbye to a mammal who'd done so much for her, even if it was only for a short time.
An idea struck the tod, and he offered a grin down to the little doe. "I have an extra seat at graduation." He started, remembering Major Friedkin informing them that they each had four seats for the ceremony. With his mom and Judy taking two, he had some to spare. "Why don't you come?" The fox offered. Graduation was only a few short weeks away, and it would give Sasha something to look forward to.
Lifting her head to look up at Nick, the baby bunny's eyes widened at the offer. "I can come to your graduation?" She asked, seeking clarification. She hadn't been able to attend Judy's as her siblings had all snatched the tickets before she could get to them.
"Sure, I don't see why not. One of your siblings will have to come with you though." The tod shrugged. He didn't want the doe catching the train by herself, trying to make her way through the crowds at the academy without supervision. "Be sure to ask them nicely." He tacked on, not entirely sure what method of persuasion the baby bunny was cooking up.
Head whipping around, Sasha found Jasmine amongst her siblings, and she offered her older sister a toothy grin. She was confident that Judy's littermate would take her.
"The train now approaching Platform 2 is the 09:25 Zootopia Express. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform." The PA system announced, leading to a flurry of activity as the Hopps family members got in their final hugs and goodbyes, making Judy, Nick, and Marian promise to keep in touch and visit soon. Once they'd boarded and their luggage had been stowed, Nick found a cluster of four seats near a window. Looking out, he spotted little Sasha in the crowd. Rather than crying, though, the baby bunny was bouncing on the spot, paw waving madly. Offering her the chance to be at his graduation in a few weeks was no skin off his nose, and it gave Sasha something to look forward to. Deep down, the tod was also thrilled at the idea of having Judy's family – his family – there for the important day.
As the train lurched to life, Judy lifted a paw to wave at her family. She was happy to be heading back to the city, to her job and their apartment, but she already missed Bunnyburrow. The train started its journey back to the city, and once her family was out of sight the doe relaxed back into her seat with a heavy sigh, brows drawn down.
"I'm sure you'll see them soon." Marian reached across the small gap between them to place a paw on Judy's knee, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The vixen could remember when she'd first left home, and even now she still felt a wave of sadness after she visited her family for a few days. No matter how old a mammal was, it was always tough.
Lifting her gaze, Judy's brow smoothed out, and a small smile crossed her lips. "I know." She placed a paw down on Marian's, silently thanking her for the comfort. "How did you find it?" She changed topic. Though Marian had been a little overwhelmed initially, Judy had noticed how quickly she'd adapted to always being surrounded by demanding kits.
"I had a wonderful time." Marian smiled, her words nothing but the truth. Though she'd been prepared to spend Christmas alone, figuring Nick would be with Judy, the chance to meet the rest of the does family had been better than anything she could've imagined. The vixen had gained hundreds of new family members over the last few days, and she was certain she'd be seeing several of Judy's siblings and her parents more frequently. Gaze moving from the bunny to her son, Marian extended her free paw to him. Though she would live and die by the idea of it being the two of them against the world, she couldn't deny that knowing Nick now had a large soon to be in-law family soothed her old bones. It had always been her greatest fear that once she was gone, Nick would be alone.
Taking his mother's paw, the tod gave it a gentle squeeze. He couldn't have asked for a better vacation with those he loved.
"Are you sure she'll be okay?" Judy nibbled on her lower lip, waving her paw as the taxi pulled away from Savannah Central.
Paw dropping to his side now that the taxi was out of sight, Nick chuckled, reaching for the remaining bags. "My mom has done more dangerous things in her time than getting a taxi, Fluff." He shook his head fondly, starting to head towards the metro station.
Keeping pace with her mate, Judy resisted the urge to thump his arm. He was being a gentlemammal and carrying their bags, after all. "I know, but that devil seemed a little aggressive." She pointed out, not overly comfortable with the vixen's marsupial driver.
"Is my little bunny being speciest?" Nick teased, heading down the steps to the metro platform. Thankfully the trains were pretty frequent, and they'd be home soon. The tod had plans for this afternoon, and they were making good time. As soon as he'd told his mom of his plans the day after Christmas, she'd offered to take a taxi home, not wanting to slow them down.
This time Judy did thump Nick's arm, but she had the courtesy to wait until he'd put their bags down on the platform. "More like listening to my cop intuition." She corrected, gaze lifting to find the emerald eyes she loved so much.
"Ah, that old chestnut." The tod's intuition was more in line with survival, having been honed during his years on the streets. He knew which mammals to trust and which not to, those that would cause a problem and those that would flee at the first sign of danger. His street smarts and Judy's textbook smarts would make them a formidable team on the beat. "I hate to say this, but I do need to put some study time in this evening." The fox admitted. He hadn't packed a single textbook for their trip, wanting to enjoy his time in Bunnyburrow, but he knew now that he'd have to cram.
Feeling the breeze of the approaching train, Judy took a small hop back, moving a little closer to Nick. The turbulent air for a mammal her size could be a significant problem. "That's fine, we can put in a few hours this afternoon." The doe glanced at her watch, noting it was only lunchtime.
"This evening. We have plans this afternoon." Nick let the tidbit slip, picking up their bags as the metro train came to a halt; doors sliding open to let them on. They didn't have many stops to go, so the tod was content to stand with their luggage for the trip. He ensured Judy managed to grab a seat next to him, though.
Once she'd taken her seat, ensuring there wasn't a mammal more in need of it, the doe turned her violet eyes to her mate. "We do?" She blinked, brows drawing together again as she frowned, racking her brain for anything she'd missed. They hadn't planned anything other than their Bunnyburrow trip since Nick had returned from the academy. Judy had plenty of free time now though, having stopped working for Mr. Otterton after the Christmas rush deliveries had been dealt with, and she no longer offered her kitsitting services.
"Yup." Nick popped the 'p', offering Judy a sly grin as the metro train pulled away from the platform, hurtling through the underground tunnels towards their stop. "You're good to go as you are." He added, taking in Judy's attire. She'd put on a simple pair of jeans and the jumper he'd made for her, and though she'd worn it a few times since he'd gifted it to her, the tod still felt his heart skip a beat. It was beyond satisfying to see his mate in something he'd made. Warmth rushed over him as he eyed her, and Nick surreptitiously lifted a paw to tug at the collar of his shirt, claws scratching through fluffy fur a moment later. Restraining himself had been hard work while they'd been away, and it had been made worse by the small spaces they'd occupied in the warren. Now, back in the city, the tod was hopeful that his urges wouldn't be so prominent. His body wanted to rebel, his sensitive nose picking up on the fact that his scent was a lot weaker on Judy now, smothered by the smells of her family.
The metro train stopped at several stations before the PA system announced that the next stop was theirs, and Nick offered out a paw to help Judy stand. The doe graciously took it, rising to her small height. "If you need an itch scratching…" Judy dropped her voice to a whisper, concern in her eyes as she watched Nick pick up their bags and shuffle towards the train door. He might've thought that he was subtle, but the bunny could sense Nick's discomfort. It hadn't helped that during their time away they hadn't been as pawsy as they'd wanted to be, aware of the hundreds of pairs of eyes and ears focused on their every move since news of their relationship had whipped around the warren.
"My scent isn't as strong on you anymore." The tod responded, not wanting to confess in public that he was struggling with his winter urges. He winced at how pathetic he sounded though, the sight of Judy's secret smile in his peripheral not helping. He hoped that with the bonding bracelet firmly around his wrist he'd battle through the last of his extreme possessiveness, but with winter heightening his feelings and urges he doubted there would be any difference until spring.
Unable to respond as the train pulled to a stop and they were forced to disembark, the doe kept quiet until they reached the surface, weaving through the crowds to an empty side street that would lead them home. "I need to wash the travel grime off me when we get in." She started, dropping a few proverbial breadcrumbs as they turned a corner, the steps leading down to their apartment coming into view.
"While you do that I'll start unpacking and put a laundry load on. Our swimwear is in serious need of a clean." Nick made a mental list of things to do while Judy showered. Mundane tasks would take his mind off the mental images his brain was concocting. They'd continued with Judy's exposure to cold water while they'd been away, using one of the warrens many bathtubs before venturing outside to a local lake. However, they hadn't wanted to arouse suspicion, so they hadn't added their swimwear to the warren's laundry pile. His doe had managed to overcome her fear enough to let the water lap around her shoulders, but getting her to dunk her head under was proving more challenging than Nick had anticipated.
Scowling at the back of her fox as he descended the stairs to their apartment, Judy huffed. "No, Slick." She put her hind paw down as Nick pulled his keys from his pocket, pausing at Judy's rebuttal. "That was a hint for you to join me." The doe shook her head, wondering how her fox had missed it. She could wash away her family's scent and take care of her mate at the same time, and she was pretty sure once she was dry afterward Nick would make quick work of smothering his scent all over her.
Emerald eyes focused on his mate and Nick blinked, stupefied. He'd never missed a hint before. "You want me to join you in the shower?" He clarified, hoping he'd heard her right. Swallowing, he tampered down on a surge of lust.
Plucking the key from Nick's paw, Judy opened the front door, bending down to scoop up the small pile of mail that had formed behind it. Once she was upright, she nodded, stepping inside as she flicked through the post. "It's a very big shower, and I'm a very small bunny. It gets lonely." She teased.
Judy's shriek filled the air a moment later as she was scooped up from behind, the mail falling to the ground with a light thud as Nick lifted her. The tod had abandoned their luggage just inside the apartment, and he kicked the door shut behind him as he adjusted his hold on his mate, moving her so that she was draped over one of his shoulders. Her small weight was nothing compared to the loads he'd had to lift at the academy, and the fox started to take long strides towards the bathroom.
"What are we, cavemammals?" The doe lightly thumped Nick's back, trusting that he wouldn't drop her. Though she protested, Judy didn't put much heart into it. After all, this was exactly what she'd wanted.
Dried, dressed, and smelling distinctly like her fox, Judy smoothed down the fur on her ears as she watched Nick pull on a clean shirt. Their shower had taken a little longer than anticipated, and the doe moved her paw to her shoulder, feeling the slight indentation marks of her fox's bite. He hadn't broken the skin, but it was still a little sore.
"Ready?" Nick asked as he finished doing up the last button of his shirt, slipping his phone and wallet into his pockets. Turning, he caught his rabbit with her paw on her shoulder. A flash of guilt coursed through him. "I can get you some painkillers?" He offered, not wanting his mate to suffer. He hadn't intended on biting her, but when Judy had pushed his muzzle towards her shoulder, it had been like a red rag to a bull.
Shaking her head, Judy's paw slipped from her shoulder, and the rabbit reached for her handbag, slinging it over the other shoulder. "I'm fine." She reassured Nick, offering out a paw to him. Once he'd taken it, Judy led him towards the front door, picking up his keys as they passed the small table in the hallway. "Where are we going?" She questioned as they stepped outside, letting go of Nick's paw long enough to lock the door.
"Nu-uh, it's a surprise." The fox took his key from Judy, slipping it into his pocket before he took her paw, heading up the stairs to street level. They could walk to where they were heading, and the tod set off down the street, Judy falling into step beside him. It had taken a few calls to organize their afternoon activity, and Nick had cashed in a favor with a former street mammal that'd managed to turn his life around.
Knowing she wouldn't get any more from her fox, Judy let the subject drop, trusting him. Casting her gaze around them, the doe tried to work out where they were going from their surroundings. The streets were quiet, almost too quiet, as most mammals were still at home with their families. Though Judy felt terrible for ditching Marian at the station, she relished the opportunity to finally be alone with her fox.
They strolled for a while, paws interlocked, swinging together between them until Nick brought them to a stop at the entrance to a side street. "Remember on your birthday, when you told me all the places you liked to visit?" He asked, earning a nod from his mate. "Remember during the closing ceremony, on the back porch, when I promised you two more dates?" He watched as realization dawned on Judy's face, her violet eyes widening and lips parting in surprise. "I'm sure there'll be plenty more dates in our future, but I figured it's time to act on my promise." The fox gave Judy's paw a gentle tug, turning the pair of them down the side street. "See the narrow building?" He pointed with his free paw at a short building, only two stories high compared to the six-story apartment blocks around it.
Violet eyes following the line of buildings, Judy found the small house Nick had gestured to. It was light cream in color, contrasting the brick red of the buildings either side, and the domed roof featured an ornate spire. The rabbit had never ventured to this part of the city before, even when she'd been walking the beat with Wolford. Such a beautiful building would've looked more at home in the opulence of Sahara Square rather than the modern metropolis of Savannah Central.
Leading Judy to towards the building, Nick slowed their pace to give her the opportunity to admire it. A stroke of luck had seen one of his friends take ownership of it. Desmond had been squatting in the abandoned building for over fifteen years, having found himself on the streets after his divorce, and the dhole had started to repair the crumbling building over time, investing some of his hustling money. After ten years without the buildings rightful owner coming forward, the city courts had handed the aging predator the deed to the property. Since then, Desmond had utterly transformed the place.
"It's a bookstore." Judy breathed as they drew closer, her wide eyes taking in the window displays and the name painted above the door. "Desmond's Den." She read aloud, her mind providing her with images of a warm and cozy store, filled to the brim with all sorts of novels.
Taking the small step up to the store door, Nick offered his doe a smug smile. "It's an independent bookstore." He mentally patted himself on the back, remembering his rabbit's love for them along with museums and galleries. Pausing just before he pushed the door open, Nick let Judy's paw drop as he turned to fully face her, blocking the view through the glass panes of the door. "Close your eyes." He instructed, tail swishing behind him in a mixture of anticipation and nervousness. "Trust me, please." He tacked on at Judy's raised eyebrow. As the doe obliged and closed her eyes, Nick wafted a paw in front of her face, checking that she couldn't see. Satisfied, he took her paws in his own, shuffling backward to open the door with his butt. As the heavy wooden door swung open the bell above it chimed.
At the sound of the door opening, the dhole behind the counter slipped a bookmark into the page he'd been reading, closing it and putting it aside. Standing, he watched as the fox led the rabbit into his store. Rubbing at the greying fur on his muzzle, the predator held in his chuckle. When Nicholas had called him last week and asked to cash in his favor, Desmond had been curious as to what the young fox had wanted from him. The predator had initially thought he'd heard Nicholas wrong when the fox had asked him to close his store for the afternoon so he could enjoy a date with his mate. He'd even considered getting his hearing checked after the tod had informed him of his mate's species.
Hearing the chime of the bell, Judy put all her trust in her fox as he walked her into the store. Large ears turned as she heard crackling, and her nose twitched as she inhaled, catching the scent of burning wood. "A fireplace." She decided, tuning her senses to the rest of the room. Sniffing again, the doe relished the scent of old books, the light scent of hundreds of mammals lingered in the air, presumably customers, yet one stood out stronger than the rest. "Predator." Her mind supplied. In the past that would've been enough to have the rabbit opening her eyes, not willing to be so vulnerable, but with Nick holding her paws she trusted that she was in no danger.
Spotting Desmond behind the desk, Nick offered the mammal a grin, continuing to lead Judy into the store. He wanted her to open her eyes near the center of the store, the most spectacular spot. "Nearly there Fluff." He reassured her, giving her paws a squeeze. Continuing to take a few more steps back, Nick finally stopped. "Keep them closed." He instructed, letting go of Judy's paws so he could move aside, not wanting to miss her reaction. Nervous butterflies erupted in his gut, and the tod silently prayed that he'd picked the right place.
"Now can I open them?" Judy questioned, paws falling as Nick let them go. She brought them together in front of her, wringing them together. What was inside this bookstore that had led Nick to ask for her to close her eyes?
Unable to delay it any longer, and knowing just how impatient his bunny could be, Nick gave a quick nod of his head as he swallowed the lump in his throat. "Alright, now."
Opening her eyes, the doe gasped she could finally see the inside of the store. Never in her life had she seen somewhere so beautiful. Right in front of her stood a grand staircase, climbing up and up until it split into two, curving around and leading to the first floor. It was made of solid wood, and a red carpet covered each step. Substantial wooden bookshelves lined the walls, shelves bowing under the weight of the books filling them. Sturdy tables littered the floor, stacked high with more books, and just off to the side sat a crackling fireplace with plush armchairs and sofas around it. "I've never seen so many books in my life." She breathed in awe. While Bunnyburrow had a library, it was small and lacking, and Judy had struggled to find anything worth reading.
"You like it?" Nick grinned, emerald eyes watching as his doe gaped at the room, taking in every detail with kit-like wonder. He'd thought her reactions to the paintings at the gallery during their first date had been mesmerizing, but it didn't hold a candle to watching her look around now.
Wanting to see more the doe took several steps towards the nearest table, lifting a paw to skim her fingers over the thick covers of the stacked books on it. "It's wonderful."
"It's ours for the afternoon." The fox explained, silently grateful for Desmond's cooperativeness when he'd called in his favor. He wasn't exactly sure what mammals did on bookshop dates, and his brief internet search hadn't brought up much, but he was content to follow Judy's lead.
Touched by her fox's kindness, and the fact he'd remembered all of her favorite places, the doe took the few steps back to Nick before she pushed up onto the balls of her hind paws, pressing a kiss to his muzzle. "Thank you so much." She whispered, unable to stop herself from stealing a chaste kiss.
As Judy's lips met his, the fox flattened his ears back, trying to hide the blush he swore he could feel starting. He caught the faint sound of Desmond approaching, and while Nick had no problem with public displays of affection, he wasn't entirely sure how the old dhole would take to seeing it. He'd met the other predator while on the streets, and the fellow canine had been somewhat of a knowledge touch-point over the years, guiding him through rough patches and showing him creative ways of making cash. Desmond had bailed him out a few times too when he'd had skirmishes with the law.
Having locked the shop door to ensure no one would interrupt them, the owner shuffled his way towards the lovers. "I'm glad you like it, young lady." He drew close, his wooden cane tapping against the floor with every step, steadying him. The canine had spent most of his life on the streets, having married and divorced young. She'd taken the house and his heart, and he'd been left with nothing more than the clothes on his back and $50 in his wallet. Spending his nights sleeping in doorways and trudging the streets in the day had taken its toll on his body, and by the time he'd found the abandoned bookstore to squat in it had been too late to try and fix most of the damage.
Turning in the direction of the voice, Judy offered the other mammal a small smile. He stood a little taller than Nick, though his shoulders were hunched as he shuffled forward with his cane. His fur was russet, flecked with grey, and his kind eyes had turned blue-grey with age. It was clear that he was part of the canine family, but the doe couldn't quite work out exactly what he was. "I never would've thought this was here." She admitted, violet eyes looking around the room again.
"Judy, this is my old friend Desmond." Nick started the introductions, slipping an arm around Judy's waist to hold her close to his side. Desmond wasn't a threat, but the tod still felt the natural instinct to stake his claim. "Desmond, this is my mate, Judy."
Offering out his free paw, the dhole shook Judy's. As her sleeve rode up the canine spotted the silver bracelet around her wrist, and he suppressed his smile. "It's a pleasure to meet the mammal who's tamed young Nicholas here."
Laughing as their paws dropped, the doe turned her gaze to her fox. "I wouldn't exactly call Nick young." She teased fondly.
Free paw rising to his chest, the fox placed it over his heart, gasping in mock hurt. "Back to wounding me, after all the effort I've gone to." He played along, the upward quirk of his lips conveying his amusement.
As Nick brought his paw to his chest, Desmond caught the flash of silver around his wrist too, and the dhole's curiosity peeked. He held his tongue though, knowing it wasn't the right moment to question the fox and his relationship. Deciding it would be best to leave them to enjoy their date, the old mammal smiled. "I'll leave you two mammals in peace. Read whatever you like. I've left some refreshments near the fire, and if you need anything just shout." He tipped his head in the direction of the back room, letting them know where they could find him. Cane in paw, Desmond set a steady pace, heading to the office he'd motioned towards. He'd fitted it out with a comfortable reclining sofa for his afternoon naps, and right now he could do with a rest.
As Desmond disappeared from view, the rabbit turned her focus back to the room. There were so many books that she wasn't sure where to start. Nibbling on her lip, the doe settled on exploring the store, and hopefully, something would catch her attention. Heading towards the grand staircase, she placed a paw on the smooth wooden banister, keeping hold of it as she began to climb. The carpet was plush under her hind paws, and the afternoon light flooded in from the windows on the domed roof.
The upper level was just as beautiful as the ground floor, with ornately carved wooden banisters and bookcases stacked high with novels. Massive columns protruded from halfway up the walls, reaching up to support the ceiling. Ambient lighting and plush red curtains created a cozy atmosphere, and as the doe continued to climb, she realized that the stairs formed a bridge over the opening down to the ground floor. Pausing as the staircase split, she looked left and then right, unsure which way to go. Deciding to head right first, she finished her climb. The staircase delivered her to the 'G' section of the store, and Judy began to peruse the shelves. Fingers trailing over the book spines, the rabbit smiled as she came across J.K. Growling, her mind filling with fond memories of reading her novels with Jasmine during their kithood.
Following Judy up the stairs, the tod watched her lose herself in the shelves of books. Her tail bobbed as she walked, and it didn't take long for the fox to pick up on her tell. Each time a book piqued her interest she flicked her tail – whether the action was subconscious or not, Nick didn't know, but it made him smile. Reading hadn't been a past time of his since he'd left home, the long hours of hustling leaving him exhausted by the time he'd managed to crawl back to wherever he'd been staying that week. Living with Judy, the tod had a funny feeling it would become a favorite pastime in their home. Perusing the rows and rows of books, Nick plucked one from the shelf, turning it over to look at the cover. "George R. R. Meowtin."
Looking down the line of shelves, Judy grabbed a rolling ladder, moving it to the right position before she began to climb, violet eyes focused on a book she'd spotted high up.
Returning the book to its space on the shelf, Nick turned in time to see Judy clambering up the ladder. With a quickened pace he reached the bottom of it, putting a hind paw on the lower rung to stop it from potentially moving. "What kind of things do you like to read?" He asked, gaze lifting. Emerald eyes found Judy's butt, and with a small sideways tilt of his head, Nick admired the view.
"A variety of things really. Far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise…" Judy rattled off, feeling Nick's eyes on her. She'd let him stare. Now much taller, Judy reached out with one paw, the other clutching the ladder tightly. Prying the book she wanted from the shelf, she grinned. Judy had wanted to read this particular novel for years, but the library in Bunnyburrow hadn't had it, and the few bookstores in the district specialized more in farming books. Clutching it, she began to carefully climb down.
Watching as his mate maneuvered her way down the ladder, the fox waited until she was safely on the ground, keeping his hind paw on the lower rung, not wanting to risk her falling and hurting herself. The paw she rested lightly against his chest in thanks brought a smile to his face. As she headed back towards the staircase, drawn to the cozy fireplace, Nick watched as she opened up the book in her paws to the first page, starting to read as she padded her way downstairs.
Shaking his head in amusement, Nick followed, finding her curled up on the couch in front of the fire. Taking a seat beside her he used his size and strength to his advantage, rearranging their position so that Judy's head came to rest in his lap. Prying the book from her paws, ignoring her weak protests, Nick flicked back to the beginning. Clearing his throat, he held the book in one paw, the other coming to rest on Judy's stomach. "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing…"
Settling, Judy's eyes closed at the comforting sound of Nick's voice, and the doe moved her paws to cover his on her belly. The real world felt miles away as Nick continued to read, his tone rising and falling as he adopted the voices of the various characters in the tale, and the weight of his paw was a warm reminder of his love.
They spent a few hours by the fire in one another's company; the tod continuing to read aloud even when it seemed like Judy was falling asleep. Contentment and happiness flowed between them, and the fox never wanted the moment to end. However, he was aware of the time and the building pressure to study for his final exams, so with heavy reluctance, he brought his reading to a close as he reached the middle of the book. Though Judy had picked the tale out, Nick had unexpectedly come to enjoy it. "You'll have to wait until tomorrow for the second half." He decided, knowing he would be purchasing it.
Playing with Nick's paw on her belly, Judy playfully whined in protest, her large ears smoothed down as she slowly began to sit up, not wanting to stand too quickly and become dizzy. Eyeing the cookies and water set out for them, she reached for a treat, picking up a chocolate one. Bringing it to her mouth, she spoke before taking a bite. "If your cop career fails you could always be a professional storyteller." She announced, finishing the treat in a few bites before she dusted her fingers off on her pants. Her mother would've smacked her tail with her cooking spoon if she had witnessed her action.
"Probably more money in hustling." The fox made a mental note of the page number as he closed the book, not wanting to fold the corner of the page. His father had hated when mammals had done that.
With her cookie finished, Judy picked up a glass of water, taking a few sips before she set it back down. "More chance of me cuffing you in hustling."
"Kinky." The tod grinned, unable to help it.
Judy's shoulders sagged, and she shook her head, a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips. Lifting a paw she landed a light punch on Nick's arm, rising from the sofa as he moved to rub the spot she'd thwacked. While Nick had been reading to her, Judy's mind had wandered, and the doe had started to question whether Desmond had her favorite book in stock. She'd left her copy in Bunnyburrow when she'd moved to the city, and she'd forgotten to pack it before they'd left this morning.
As Judy started to wander off, Nick rose from the couch, tucking the book under his arm as he began to follow her, his curiosity piqued.
Stopping at the 'C' section, Judy tipped her head back to look at all of the shelves on the giant bookcase. There, on the twelfth shelf up, sat the book she was after. Excitement had the doe bouncing on her hind paws, and she grabbed the nearest rolling ladder. With ease, she climbed up until she was in line with the shelf. Holding on with one paw, Judy reached out with the other, fingertips brushing the spine of the novel as she pushed herself just that little bit further.
It felt like slow motion to Nick, watching as Judy reached for a book, small fingers grasping the spine and pulling it from the shelf, just before she lost her balance and started to plummet towards the ground. Book falling from under his arm, the fox's heart pounded as he raced to stand beneath Judy's falling body, and if it weren't for his honed reaction time and speed he wouldn't have made it.
With a thump the doe landed in his arms, startled by her fall yet still clutching the book she'd been after. "Please don't die for a book." Nick forced the words out, swallowing thickly as he tried to mask his terror with humor. He could feel his arms shaking as he gently set Judy down, checking her over for any injuries. Other than looking a little surprised, she was okay. Scooping up the book he'd dropped, Nick tucked it back under his arm.
"Thanks, Slick." Judy offered quietly before she cleared her throat, moving her attention to the book in her paws. She'd fallen from many heights during her training and even while on duty, but it wasn't a sensation a small mammal like her would ever get used to. "This isn't just any book." She protested. Nick's raised eyebrow had her turning the book around to show him the cover. "It's Hans Christian Purrson." She turned it back, carefully opening it to the first page, treasuring the new book smell. As she started to read the familiar words, she silently mouthed along, unable to stop herself from bouncing on the spot in excitement.
Watching his mate's body language, Nick found himself almost wishing he could pull the book from her paws and start reading it, to find out what was drawing such a strong reaction from her. A few pages later she turned the book again, this time to point at a paragraph. "Oh, isn't this amazing? It's my favorite part because you see, here's where she meets Prince Charming, but she won't discover that it's him 'til chapter three!"
Seeing how much Judy loved the book, and the twinkle in her eyes as she read it, Nick knew he had to get it for her. Crossing over to the old till, he set the book under his arm down on to the counter before he pulled his wallet from his back pocket, counting out enough for Judy's book and the one they'd been reading together on the couch.
"You don't need to buy it for me, Slick. I've read it countless times, and I can get mom to send me the copy I have in Bunnyburrow." Judy's focus had shifted from the page as Nick had walked away, and she'd felt a flash of guilt as she'd watched him pull out his wallet. She already had a copy; he didn't need to be wasting his money on another.
Tucking his wallet back into his pocket, the tod shrugged, switching his focus to Judy. "I haven't read it yet." He stated, moving back to stand in front of her, gently prying the book from her paws so he could flip through it.
"You want to read Hans Christian Purrson?" Judy couldn't believe what she was hearing.
Humming his confirmation, Nick closed the book, offering it back out to Judy. From what little he'd skim read, it didn't seem like something he'd hate. "Dad used to say that you can tell a lot about a mammal from their favorite book and that you can find pieces of them in the pages. I already know a lot about you, but I'm curious as to what other pieces I might find." He shrugged. Realising how sappy it sounded the fox cleared his throat, moving on. "If you're ready then we should probably head back, this fox has to study at some point."
Hiding her smile at how adorable her mate was Judy nodded her head in agreement. Though she would've loved to spend another few hours in the bookstore, the real world was calling. "Should we wake Desmond?" She questioned, looking over at the back of the store. The doe had checked in on him regularly, tuning her ears into the sound of his heartbeat and snoring. He hadn't stirred since he'd sat down after leaving them.
Emerald eyes quickly looked over the counter near the till and Nick found what he was looking for. Lifting up the key to the shop, he shook his head. Grabbing the book they'd read by the fire Nick handed it to Judy, and the two mammals silently made their exit, locking the shop up behind them before Nick dropped the key back through the letterbox. He'd call the dhole tomorrow and thank him again for lending them his shop.
Using one paw to clutch the two books to her chest, Judy slipped the other into Nick's paw, lacing their fingers together. "Thanks, Nick." She looked up her fox, offering him a soft smile. She hadn't expected such a thoughtful date.
Glancing down at the doe by his side, the fox offered her a wink as he gently swung their paws, counting their afternoon as a win. "Anytime Carrots, anytime."
"How am I meant to remember all of this?" Nick groaned, slamming the textbook shut as he dropped down onto the couch, jostling his mate. He'd been unsuccessfully trying for the last hour to memorize the first chapter, and all he had to show for it was a bunch of pencil scribbles on the pages. "I barely made it through high school."
Having heard Nick's approach, Judy had already put down her book, making a mental note of the page number. As the fox came to sit with her on the couch, the doe turned so she could face him. "You just need the right motivation."
"Motivation? Fluff, I am motivated, trust me. There's nothing I want more than being a cop." Nick sighed, tipping his head back until it thunked against the couch. He was more of a practical mammal, something that had come in useful at the academy when 75% of their training had involved physical activity. Now faced with a thick textbook and four exams, he was stumped.
Well aware of how much Nick wanted to be a cop, the rabbit hid her smile. "Are you sure?" She quizzed. She'd anticipated that he would struggle, and it hadn't taken her long to come up with an idea as to how to help him.
"Yes?" The fox's answer was uncertain, Judy's question having thrown him. Emerald eyes narrowed as he took in Judy's expression – amusement and mischief combined. "I don't like that look you're wearing."
Schooling her features, the doe leaned into Nick's space. "You like making deals, right?"
"Usually for favors, yes," Nick responded, unsure where the conversation was going.
Shuffling towards her mate, Judy dropped her voice an octave. "Then I'll do you a favor. I'll quiz you to find out what you already know, and what we need to work on." She laid down the foundations of her plan.
Nodding, Nick reasoned that was a good idea. It would cut down on the amount he needed to study. However, Judy's body language and the tone of her voice didn't match up with her innocent offer, and Nick scowled as he tried to work out what exactly his little rabbit was up to.
"Once we know what you need to work on, we need to ensure it becomes long-term memory. Short-term memories can become long-term memory through meaningful association." Judy continued, lifting a paw to smooth down her ears. It was one of the flimsiest explanations she'd ever come up with, and she hoped Nick would overlook that. She was determined to get her fox to study and help with his winter urges.
Still a little confused, Nick smoothed out his scowl and tipped his head sideways, the end of his tail flicking. "I'm not sure I'm completely following. What do you get out of this deal?" So far it sounded like Nick was the only one winning.
"You're more likely to remember things if there's a positive emotional association with it. So, I'm going to ask you ten questions about each subject you're unsure about. For every one you get right, you get a kiss." Judy explained. "If you get 8 out of 10 questions correct in a subject…" The doe reached for the hem of her jumper and removed it in one smooth move, tossing it onto Nick's lap, leaving her in a thin t-shirt. "I get to lose a piece."
As Judy's words sank in, Nick's eyes widening and he swallowed. The fox played with the soft fabric in his lap as he mulled over Judy's offer. It was tempting, and certainly not what he'd expected from his rabbit. "It's winter. That's not a good idea." He protested, torn.
Having anticipated that Nick would be uncertain about her idea, the doe reached out, small paws gently grabbing his muzzle. "I trusted you when you wanted me to get into the ice water, so please trust me with this." Judy dropped a kiss to his muzzle. "You should also stop fighting your biology. You won't break me. I trust you." Violet eyes lifted to find emerald ones, and Judy held Nick's gaze. She didn't want to force the issue, or him, but the longer he fought his instincts, the more frustrated he'd become, and that wasn't the right frame of mind for him to be in for his exams.
Judy's offer was tempting, and though a small part of the fox was terrified that he could potentially hurt her, he trusted that his doe would let him know if things got too intense. With a small nod, he agreed, watching as Judy moved away from him, pulling on her jumper as she took the textbook and pencil with her. She dove right in, asking questions to determine his level of knowledge. They rattled through all of the topics in the book and compiled a small list of areas he needed to improve on.
Closing the book, Judy placed it down on the coffee table, just out of Nick's reach. Deciding on her first topic, she picked the first question. "Alright Slick, who issues a warrant and what types are there?"
"A court usually issues them, and there are search warrants, arrest warrants, and…" Nick paused, racking his brain. He could faintly remember the classroom session with Major Friedkin when they'd gone over this subject. "Execution warrants." He answered, offering Judy a grin. Lifting a paw as he turned his head ever so slightly, he tapped a finger against his cheek. He'd answered the question correctly, and he wanted his reward.
Obliging, Judy leaned across the small space between them, pressing a light kiss to her mate's cheek. She had a feeling she'd be doling out a lot more of them over the course of the evening. Sitting back, she decided on her second question. "What's a search warrant?"
Knowing that Judy would go through all the different types, the tod rolled his eyes at her question. It had to be the easiest one she could've asked, but it would earn him a kiss. "It authorizes law enforcement to conduct a search of a person, location, or vehicle, for evidence of a crime and to confiscate any evidence they find."
Nodding as Nick answered correctly, the doe planted a quick kiss on the side of his muzzle before swiftly moving on. "How about an arrest warrant?"
"It authorizes the arrest and detention of an individual or the search and seizure of an individual's property." The fox rattled off the definition with ease.
Giving him another kiss, it wasn't like it was a hardship for Judy to show her mate some affection. "Finally, what about an execution warrant?" She'd saved the hardest one for last.
Pausing, the tod gave it a moment of thought. The name of the warrant offered him some idea, but he wasn't entirely sure. Bringing a paw up to his muzzle, he rubbed it in contemplation. "It authorizes law enforcement to use deadly force when bringing down a perp?" He answered, grimacing.
Shoulders dropping, the doe shook her head. "That's a licence to kill. An execution warrant authorises capital punishment on an individual." She reached for the textbook and pencil, scribbling a quick note for them to look over the topic again. Execution warrants were exceedingly rare, with judges preferring alternative solutions that didn't spell death for the perp, but it was still written in law and therefore something Nick had to know.
"Damn it," Nick growled, frustrated that he'd messed up. He'd been on a winning streak, and now that had gone to hell.
"It's okay, we still have a few more to go." The rabbit reassured her mate, kicking out one of her hind paws so she could nudge the fox. Returning her attention to the textbook, they rattled through the remaining six questions and by the time they'd finished the topic, Nick had answered nine out of ten correct. Proud of him, Judy stood, gesturing with her paws to her outfit. "Nine out of ten, Slick. Pick a layer."
Looking Judy up and down, the tod contemplated which layer he wanted her to remove first. He could go for her pants, which the fox found a very tempting idea, or he could pick her jumper and keep the game going, giving him a better chance at actually learning something and driving them both a little crazy. Making his choice, the tod reached up to scratch at the fluffy fur on his neck, reining in his lust. "Jumper."
Surprised by Nick's choice, it took Judy a moment to get her tail in gear and remove the garment he'd selected. She wasn't above lifting it a little slower than usual though. Down to her t-shirt, Judy took her seat back on the couch, picking up the textbook. "Topic number two…" They carried on, working their way through trials, sentences, health and safety laws, and standard forensic procedures. Nick had managed to achieve 8 out of 10 in trials and forensics procedures, leaving Judy now sat on the couch in her underwear.
The rabbit was trying her hardest to not look at her fox. His gaze was hungry, predatory, and she could hear the slight quickening of his heartbeat. A tinge of concern passed through her at the thought that maybe she was playing with fire, being almost naked in front of her tod during mating season, but she trusted him, which led to her powering on. "Topic six, property law."
Not overly confident in the area, Nick tried to hide his wince. He was so close to having Judy naked, and she had to throw this topic at him? His responses were slower as he worked his way through the questions, not wanting to risk getting anything wrong, so giving himself a little time to think. By the time he'd answered the seventh question, he'd only got one wrong.
"Question eight, what is bailment?" Judy continued to scribble notes, circling things they would need to go over again tomorrow. While Nick had insisted that he wasn't book smart, he wasn't doing too poorly.
Nick had to stop himself from letting slip a yip of excitement as Judy asked the one question he could answer in his sleep. "It's where physical possession of personal property is transferred from one mammal to another, who then subsequently has possession of the property. It usually arises when a mammal gives the property to another for safekeeping." His father had transferred ownership of their home to his mother a few months before he'd been murdered, and though he'd only been a kit, Nick could remember hearing them talking about it late at night. Once he'd learned that his father's death hadn't been an accident, the fox had found it suspicious that ownership of the house had been passed solely to his mother, as if his father had known something would happen. Pulled from memory lane by the kiss planted on his muzzle, the tod focused on the next question, not wanting to dwell on the past.
Turning the page of the textbook, Judy picked her next question. "How many years must a squatter have lived in a property before they can apply for ownership?"
"10." Nick's answer rolled off his tongue with ease as he recalled Desmond's battle for the bookshop. His knowledge earned him another kiss.
Realising that her fox had now answered eight out of nine questions correctly, the doe couldn't help but wonder which item Nick would pick next. "If a mammal drops their gold bracelet in the street, and another mammal picks it up and brings it to the police station as lost property, how long is the wait before the mammal who found it can legally claim it as theirs should the original owner not come forward?"
Pausing, the tod hid his wince. It wasn't like he'd ever handed lost property over to the police before – it was finders keepers on the streets – and he couldn't for the life of him remember the lecture when Major Friedkin had gone over this. "Three weeks?" He tried.
Shaking her head, the rabbit offered her mate a sympathetic smile. "Two months." She corrected, hearing her fox curse. "8 out of 10 though, Slick." She tried to brighten his mood, but the nervousness crept up on her, and she had to make a conscious effort not to thump her hind paw. "Make your choice."
Faced with the decision, Nick's paws clenched. He'd been in some discomfort for a while now, his instincts screaming at him to take his mate, but he'd used that discomforted and had channeled it into their game, knowing the result would be worth it. Leaning forward Nick inhaled, drowning in his rabbit's scent. Unfurling a paw, he reached out slowly, a clawed finger hooking around the strap of Judy's bra to ping the fabric. "This." He rasped.
Swallowing, Judy reached behind her, small paws finding the hooks of the garment as Nick pulled his paw back. Violet found emerald and with practiced ease Judy undid the hooks. Steeling herself, she began to remove the item, sliding it down her arms. Though she'd been confident when they'd stepped into the shower together in the past, and when she'd taken care of her fox back in Bunnyburrow, it felt different this time. The air was charged, tensions high, and there would only be one outcome to this evening.
Forcing himself to be a gentlemammal for at least a few seconds, the tod held the doe's gaze, and only once she'd let the garment fall to the floor did his eyes wander, admiring her for a moment before he looked up. The temptation to reach out and touch her was indescribable, so to keep his paws busy Nick tugged at the collar of his shirt, suddenly feeling much warmer than he had a few minutes ago.
Though Nick had seen her naked before, they'd been on an even playing field then. Now, with him fully clothed, Judy felt a little self-conscious. She was out in the open and vulnerable, a state no mammal liked to be in. Wrapping her arms around her body, the doe tried to hide as much of her fur as possible. Logically, she'd known their little game would bring them to this moment, but that didn't offer her any comfort. "It probably wasn't wise of you, Jude. It's winter, his instincts are probably screaming at him, and you're stood here basically naked."
Noticing how his rabbit tried to hide from his gaze, the fox abandoned his shirt collar, instead gently grasping one of Judy's paws in his own to pry it slowly from her body. "Please don't hide from me." He whispered, making sure to hold her gaze as he removed her other arm from around her frame. He never wanted her to feel uncomfortable around him. Deciding to take Judy's advice and stop fighting his biology, Nick chose to give in.
Abandoning his position on the couch, the fox stood to tower over the rabbit, and he brought both paws up to cup her face. Judy relaxed into his touch, her paws rising to cover his. "You have no idea how much I want you." He reassured her as his tail swished behind him, thumping the couch. Giving in to his temptation to touch, he slid his paws down her body, smoothing them over the slight curvature of her waist. His actions weren't driven by lust, no matter what his body wanted. Love drove them.
"Then take me." The doe insisted, her words a little shaky with her nerves. She was tired of waiting, tired of having to tread carefully because it was winter. She wanted her fox, and he wanted her.
Permission was all he needed, and in one smooth move Nick scooped up his bunny, mammal-handling her. Carrying her through their apartment with ease, he kicked open the door of their bedroom with a hind paw, striding in before placing her down carefully on the end of the bed. As Nick went to take a step back, the fox halted in his tracks. Small paws were working at the buttons of his shirt, and as Judy tipped her head back to look up at him, the tod couldn't resist stealing a kiss as he nudged his way to stand in the 'v' of her legs.
Slackening Nick's tie, Judy made quick work of removing it, casting it aside. Paws moving to work at the buttons of his shirt, the doe finally managed to undo the last one, but to get the offending garment off of her fox she was forced to reluctantly break their kiss. As the tod pulled her close again fur met fur, and butterflies erupted in Judy's stomach, but whether they were from anticipation, nervousness, or both, the doe couldn't tell.
Finding the button of Nick's pants, Judy struggled to get it undone, her mind focused instead on the insistent lips pressed to hers and the large paws holding on to her. She let her fox take the lead, surrendering to him as he tasted her, his kiss a promise of what was to come. When Judy's fumbling fingers finally freed the button, Nick's pants hit the floor with a dull thud, and he stepped out of them quickly, kicking them aside. Judy used the opportunity to break their kiss, needing a moment to catch her breath.
Nick, however, had other ideas. Lips trailing across Judy's fur, the fox didn't stop until he found her throat and the indents he'd made earlier in the day. Peppering kisses to them, he smiled at the sound of his mate tooth purring, her small paws grasping his thick fur. Remembering how much his rabbit enjoyed the feel of his canines on her throat, the tod bit down gently, applying just enough pressure to pull a mewl of desire from her.
Gasping at her mate's bite, Judy clung to her fox, her small body pressed tightly against his. She wanted, no needed, more. "I want you to claim me." She demanded, entirely sure of her choice...
As the side effects of her release wore off, the doe became acutely aware of the pain in her shoulder. Though Nick's tongue soothed some of the sting, the rabbit knew she'd be popping painkillers for a few days. Slowing her licks, she pulled back from the wound on his shoulder; head thumping against the bedsheets as she closed her eyes, exhausted.
As Judy ceased her licking, so did Nick, but that didn't stop the tod from pressing his nose to her throat, warm breath fanning over matted fur as he huffed, pulling in more of her scent. It was different now, carrying a more prominent layer of his smell. Pulling back enough so he could look down at his mate, emerald eyes opened to find closed violet ones, and the fox used the moment to his advantage to press a tender kiss to her lips. It would be some time before they had the desire or ability to leave the warm bed.
Smiling against Nick's lips, the doe brought a paw up to cup his muzzle. "I love you." She whispered as they parted briefly for air. Opening her eyes, she watched as Nick's whole face lit up, and she did her best to ignore the fact that her blood had tinged the fur around his mouth.
Tail still thwacking against the bed; Nick's entire focus was on the mammal beneath him, the pain in his shoulder from her bite playing second fiddle. "I love you." He reiterated, voice hoarse. Tipping his muzzle, he pressed a light kiss to her forehead, lips lingering a little longer than necessary. With Judy beneath him, having given him the most sought-after gift, he felt at ease, finally content, like a piece of him he hadn't known had been missing had finally come home.
Moving them so that they could lay on their sides, the tod pulled Judy's body snug to his, the pair of them enjoying the silence of their surroundings. Paws wandered slowly over damp fur, the two mammals exchanged soft kisses and sweet words, cementing the bond they had just created.