I reworked a few details from the previous chapter, so it may be worth your while to go back and reread it. However, the only notable change being carried forwards is that they brought the flower up into the Big Booth with them, and Judy ended up wearing it tucked behind her ear. Because gosh darn it, she may be cute, but WE CAN GO CUTER.
I also briefly considered retconning some chocolate into the previous chapter.
But then I ate it all.
Chapter 10: When It Rains
The rest of the evening passed in a blur, with neither of them fully regaining their wits after the first kiss. Judy dimly remembered a breathless Nick asking if she wanted to get some fresh air, and her agreeing to that. She remembered them vacating the booth quickly, and she definitely remembered picking up the purple flower - the same which Nick had plucked earlier in the night - which at some point had been knocked to the floor, most likely during their last… exchange. They descended to the bar, made their excuses to Manchas, who invited them to return whenever they liked, and then they left.
Outside, Nick took the lead, briefly browsing the map on his phone to find a route back to his apartment that avoided the busy street next to them. The last thing they wanted right now was to get caught up in the bustle of Cloud Alley again, especially seeing as it had only gotten busier as the night wore on. The route they wound up taking was a pedestrian path that ran right along the edge of The Rainbow River, which flowed westwards from Rainbow Falls and cut through the middle of the district.
They walked along the river in silence, elbow to elbow but not touching, each currently wrapped in his or her own thoughts. Nick strolled along, staring intently at the river with a distant look, his paws curled behind his back, trying to use that keen mind of his to piece together what had just happened, but none of the pieces of this particular puzzle seemed to fit. Judy, meanwhile, was clutching the purple crocus close to her chest as she walked, studying it intently as if it would yield up the answers to the new questions that were now gripping her.
Before either of them knew it they had reached the last bridge before the falls, and were halfway across when Nick finally snapped out of his thoughts and turned to the bunny. She had fallen a few steps behind at that point and, seeing him come to a sudden stop, slowly came to a halt standing right in front of him, an expectant look on her face as he gazed back at her. For a while the only sound was the rippling of the river below them and the dull roar of the waterfall a short distance upstream, its descent obscured in a thick cloud of mist that hung over the river.
"So…" he started nervously, her ears instinctively swiveling upwards to listen to him, "This night took a pretty interesting turn, huh?"
Judy blinked slowly as she took a half step towards him. "Interesting is one word for it," she said with a hint of a smile.
He responded by reaching out and gently cupping her shoulders. "No regrets?"
"None so far," she replied, smiling a little wider now as she reached up and placed her paws in the center of his chest, the flower still clenched in one paw. "But, I am wondering one thing…."
"What's that?" he asked, daring to reach across and stroke her cheek.
"What do we call ourselves now?" she asked, a concerned look in her eyes.
"Well, you can call me Nick," he teased.
"That's the spirit."
"Come on, I'm being serious," she said, pouting at him crossly.
Nick dropped his paw from her cheek, his gaze falling as well as he shook his head. "Honestly, Fluff, I'm not sure. This is all new ground for me, and I don't want to rush to call it anything."
"Oh," she said, her ears drooping, "Well, at the very least, we're still friends, right?"
"Best friends, and maybe- no, definitely more," he stated, drawing her to his chest and stroking her ears, an unguarded smile on his lips. "We're going to figure this out together, I promise."
She looked up at him, her heart soaring as she met his green eyes again and saw that smile. 'That darn smile,' she thought.
"I'm looking forward to it," she purred, unconsciously raising up on her toes to bring her face closer to his.
His breath caught as he felt her move closer, reminding him of their moment on Acacia Street earlier today. As before, he felt that magnetism pulling him towards her, but this time he didn't fight it, letting it pull him close enough to touch noses with her, and murmur, "Beautiful bunny."
Judy felt her cheeks flush with the compliment, and she repaid it with a soft kiss, her tail wiggling happily as she leaned into him and he kissed back. As their lips parted, she had just enough breath left to whisper a reply, "Handsome fox."
"I knew you'd admit it some day." he teased, their noses still touching as he caressed her back.
Judy rolled her eyes and-
The pair leapt into each-other's arms in fright as an explosively loud sound resonated through the air.
"The heck?" exclaimed Judy, "Was that thunder?"
As if to answer her, the skies opened up and heavy raindrops started to patter down around them on the wooden bridge and splashing noisily of the roiling water below. A few found their mark squarely on top of her muzzle, causing her nose to wrinkle.
"Come on, we've gotta get outta here," said Nick, grabbing her firmly by the paw and hustling northwards towards his apartment.
"What's going on? The rain's not due for another twenty minutes!"
"It's not the sprinklers, Fluff," he called over the sounds of heavy rain around them, "It's an actual thunderstorm. There'll be flash flooding if the drains back up so we've gotta get to shelter quick."
She was confused, but let herself be lead for the time being. Nick whisked her along the street, dodging the rapidly growing puddles and several large mammals who were stampeding back to their own places of safety.
Moments later they were standing in the lobby of Sequoia Towers, utterly drenched through to their fur. Someone had erected a barrier of sandbags across the front entrance, and the shopkeepers were also barricading the front of the their shops. Mercifully, the roof of the atrium was enclosed in glass, so no rain was getting in that way, and the only puddles inside the building here those that had already accumulated there from the humidity.
"Trust the forecast to be wrong, as usual," Nick grumbled, swiping across his phone and looking at the weather report for today. Thankfully the device was waterproof, at least. "Come on, let's get upstairs and dried off."
"Y-you sure?" she asked uncertainly. "I could just wait for the storm to pass and then head home…."
Nick shook his head apologetically. "Trains will be out of service until the morning, sky trams halted, dirigibles only fly in the daytime, and the roads are going to be backed up all the way to Ficus Grove. Afraid you're stuck here until morning, Fluff…."
She blushed at the thought of spending the night in Nick's apartment. Sure, she had already technically slept there once already, but that was special circumstances and she hadn't kissed him before then. She felt trepidation at the idea, but the greater part of her delighted in the thought of not having to part from him.
"Alright, I guess I can bunk down on the floor, or something," she suggested, earning a horrified look from the fox.
"Let's go with or something," he replied, "You take the bed, I'll take the floor."
She opened her mouth to protest, but a single digit from his paw laid over her lips hushed her.
"As your host, I insist," he added, with a hint of smugness.
"Oh, fine…." she relented, resisting the urge to suggest that they both share the bed. Now that there was suddenly something real between them, she didn't want to do anything to mess it up. Besides, his bed was rather comfy, so if he insisted, who was she to disagree? Feeling pleased with this resolution, she wrapped her soggy frame around his arm and smiled broadly while leaning her head against him.
Nick felt his heart skip at the sudden contact, and it didn't help that they were both still soaked, causing him to more keenly feel the warmth of her body pressed against him. He was grateful that, for the second time today, his ground-floor neighbors were too distracted to observe him crossing the lobby with a bunny on his arm, and they made it to the far side without incident. The good elevator answered their call - another piece of good karma - and they stepped in and pressed the button for his floor.
As the elevator doors closed, he became keenly aware of being in a confined space with his bunny. The dampness of her fur amplified her scent, and before he could stop himself, he leaned down, wrapped his arms warmly around her, and nuzzled the top of her head. Judy responded by cuddling against him and pressing her nose against his chest through his wet shirt, hugging him around the waist. They simply held one-another like that for the duration of the ride, breathing in the scent of the other mammal's fur and sharing their warmth.
It took them a few seconds to realize the door had dinged and was standing open waiting for them to disembark on the fifth floor. Once more taking her paw in his, Nick lead them around the corridor to his apartment, stopping outside the door. He slid the key into his door and thanked his lucky stars as it worked the first time. Pushing the door ajar, he turned back to Judy, who was standing just opposite.
"Well, this is me," he said with a playful smirk, "So very kind of you to walk me home..."
She rolled her eyes at his theatrics and pushed past him him into the apartment, turning to drop her phone, key and wallet on the desk by the door, along with the purple crocus which had miraculously survived the jaunt through the rain and had not yet begun to wither.
As he walked in after her, Nick pressed the dimmer switch on the wall to turn on the lights, adjusting the brightness to a level that was just tolerable for him, before closing and locking the door. The room was as they had left it, curtains drawn, and the bed disheveled with Nick's uniform strewn on top of the sheets.
"You know," she mumbled, standing in the middle of the room, her arms crossed, "I really did have this plan in my head to walk you back, just to make sure you were still okay after feeling so down, and after the drinks, and that conversation we had, and…." She trailed off, blushing at the fresh memory of their first kiss.
"Such a gentlemammal. My hero," he teased, stepping in to closer to her.
"Oh, stop it," she grumbled, making to give him a light, playful shove, but her paws simply winding up pressed to his damp chest.
His paws instinctively curled around her own and held them against him as he leaned down to gently steal a kiss from her lips. She melted into him, letting him lead for the moment. The instant he tried to draw back though, she slipped her paws from his grasp and threw her arms around his neck to pull him in for another.
They sallied back and forth between kissing and being kissed, until Nick finally broke the contact, his voice strained as he said, "We should probably stop…."
"I don't want to," she whispered, gazing up at him with a determined look.
"Me neither, but… it's been a very long, trying day, and we've both been drinking," he explained, stroking her sides, "And if… when we go further, I want it to be for the right reasons, not because we got carried away…."
She nodded thoughtfully, accepting the logic of his argument. She did feel a tinge of disappointment, of course, but it was easy enough to ignore when compared to the immense feeling of reassurance his words gave her. Still, she couldn't help but wonder what the 'right reasons' were.
"Hey, you okay, Fluff? You're shivering," he remarked.
Judy blinked up at him in surprise, and realized that she was indeed starting to tremble as the cold leached into her soaked fur.
"Oh, yeah, it's a bit drafty in here…."
"Right, yes, of course," he said, taking a step away from her, "Let me find something for you to wear and I'll grab you a towel."
Nick turned and proceeded to rifle through the rack of clothes at the foot of his bed, producing a pink T-shirt with the words JUST ZOO IT in white letters on the front, accompanied by four white claw marks that each curled in identical tick-shapes. Judy couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the color.
"Please tell me there's a good story behind you and that shirt," she said with a smirk, while crossing her arms to retain some heat.
"Hey, can't a guy just like wearing pink?" he countered as he walked past her towards the bathroom. "And okay, yes, I might have bought it for a hustle a long time ago, and probably only wore it once or twice, but still…."
She giggled at his admission, and waited patiently for him to return with a towel for her. Her mind took advantage of the lull in their conversation to leap back to the question of his reasons for waiting, and she stood there ruminating on that mystery, all the while shivering to stay warm.
He returned shortly with a pair of green towels that were just the right size for him, which meant they were big enough for her to comfortably use as a blanket. He handed one to her and kept the second for himself. He grabbed some underclothes from a pile by the rack then said, "I'm gonna go dry off and change in the bathroom…."
"Hey, Nick, Is it true foxes mate for life?" she blurted out, catching him off guard.
"Heh, well if that were true, then my father would still be around," he replied without thinking.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't know," she said apologetically.
"Not many mammals do," he said dismissively, "As for the mating for life thing? That's more of an old wives' tale, but some of us do at least try to live up to it."
He paused for a moment before smirking and turning the question back on her, "Why? Do bunnies mate for life?"
"Well, I don't know about city bunnies," she cautiously replied, while holding the towel to her chest, "but Bunnyburrow bunnies usually do. You almost never hear about divorces out there."
His lips curled up in a wide grin and said, "Oh I wasn't talking about marriage, Fluff…."
"Oh," was all she initially managed to say as her ears shot upright, turning bright red in embarrassment. Just as he was about to revel in teasing her further though, her expression flipped to mirror the sly smirk he always gave her. "Well, they don't call us bunnies prolific for nothing, you know…."
Nick's face was a picture of shock, caught off guard by the unusually forward remark. Unsure how to respond, he simply replied, "I see! Well, I'm just going to go dry myself off now…."
"Me too," mumbled a now thoroughly abashed Judy, as she turned and proceeded to towel off her ears. A few seconds later, she heard the bathroom door click and chanced a look over her shoulder to see that she was indeed alone in Nick's room.
"Dumb bunny," she chided herself, stripping out of her soaked garments and stashing them to one side. She wrapped herself up in the towel and sat on the bed, methodically drying herself from top to tail, occasionally casting embarrassed glances towards the bathroom door, half-afraid Nick would walk in on her. The other half….
No, he had been clear that he wouldn't try to take advantage, and that if anything happened it would only happen for the right reasons, whatever those were. Despite her usually impatient nature, she felt like this was something she could be patient for, though. After all, what he had said felt right and it gave her a feeling of contentment. And so, at least for now, she settled for that.
A faint childhood memory came back to her involving her parents and suggesting that she 'settle'. Something about how if she wanted to be happy, she had to settle and not pursue her dreams? But, she was already achieving her dreams, and she had met a male who supported and shared in that dream. So why couldn't she pursue her dream AND settle down with him?
She blushed as she realized where her line of thought was taking her and refocused her efforts on drying off instead.
Meanwhile, Nick stood in the cramped space of the bathroom, carefully toweling down his damp fur, having stripped bare and hung his wet shirt and trousers over the shower curtain line. He was trying to keep his mind clear of troubling thoughts, but the question about foxes and mating had thrown him. He chided himself for mentioning his father. Yes, John Wilde had walked out on his family a long time ago, and that was a sore spot for Nick, but not one that rankled much nowadays.
What really pricked at his conscience though was how he had fallen into doing similar things himself in the name of hustling. He remembered the females he had been romantic with and then conned, and a fresh wave of guilt hit him. He would never do something like that to Judy, of course, but pretty much all of his experience of being in relationships had been based on deceptions, usually with him as the deceiver. Usually.
He pushed down those thoughts and focused on the one female who truly mattered to him now. He would do right by her, no matter what it took. He would be completely open and honest with her. And if that meant accepting a label for their evolving relationship, then sure, he could do that for her. Maybe boyfriend and girlfriend? It sounded so cheesy, though. Lovers? That might be jumping the gun a little. Romantic partners? Sounded like a business arrangement. He sighed and shook his head. He'd talk about it with Judy, and they'd figure it out together.
Satisfied that he was as dry as he was going to get, he tossed the towel on the rack and pulled his underclothes on, before knocking on the door.
"Carrots?" he called out, but receiving no response.
"Is it safe for me to come out?" he asked, again receiving no response.
Shrugging, he slowly opened the door, cautiously peeking through the crack to try and locate the bunny, and hoping not to surprise her.
He was the one surprised when he spotted her curled up in the bed, fast asleep. He must have taken longer than he realized in the bathroom, because she had dried off, slipped into the pink tee and wrapped herself in his blanket before dozing off. He chuckled softly and stepped quietly into the room, picking up her damp, discarded items of clothing and the towel and carefully hanging them up to dry, before moving to the side of the bed.
Judy was fast asleep and, try as he might to just leave her be, he couldn't help but sit for a little while and watch her snoring softly into his pillow. 'I really am lucky to have you in my life, Fluff,' he thought, reaching over to stroke her ears gently. She purred happily in her sleep and nuzzled his pillow as he kept up his gentle caresses for half a minute. Eventually he had to part from her, though; there was a spare sleeping bag stored under the bed and he would be comfortable enough sleeping on that for tonight.
"Nick…." a sleepy voice called to him from the bed, "It's cold…."
He wasn't sure if she was awake or just talking in her sleep, but he could clearly see her shivering, even under the blanket. He couldn't just leave her like that and risk her getting ill, but he didn't have any spare blankets to give her either. That only left him with one choice.
As gently as he could, he lay down on the bed between her and the wall and curled up beside her, his body on top of the blankets and hers under it. His head fit on the pillow just above hers, and his arm draped easily over her smaller form, surrounding him with his warmth. In moments, the bunny's shivering had stopped, and her breath was coming in the slow, steady rhythm of sleep.
A contented sigh escaped his lips as he cuddled Judy into his chest on his bed for the second time that day. He didn't know what the future held for them, but lying there in that bed, sharing his warmth with the mammal he knew he loved, he realized he was willing to do anything to make their relationship work. To make her happy. Soon enough, he drifted off into his own dreams, and the most restful, peaceful sleep of his life.
Judy woke with a start. Her mind was groggy and her senses addled with sleep, but she was almost certain she was back in her bed in The Grand Pangolin Arms, alone. She could only remember snippets of this night's dream about Nick, and she fought to retain them in her memory. They had their first successful patrol together, and then she had gone to his apartment, and he had saved her from falling out of a window, then they went on a wonderful date where they kissed endlessly, then went back to his apartment, and….
And then she had woken up.
She wanted to scream and kick the pillows and cry her eyes out, but her body felt too heavy to move. Instead she just lay there and sobbed quietly to herself. She'd had these dreams almost every night, sometimes intensely and other nights less so, but this was the most vivid one yet. It felt too real, and that only made the feeling now all the more bitter.
Sullenly, she turned to face the wall next to her bed, and blinked into the room that stretched out in front of her instead. She could make out the shapes of a table and chair, two doors, and a heavily curtained window? That wasn't right. She blinked and tried to shake the fog from her mind. She was in her bed, wasn't she? No, there were no plush toys that she could see. She tried to turn, but her body still felt too heavy. No, that wasn't right either, something heavy was pinning her! And then that heavy thing spoke.
"Hey, Carrots, you okay?" it whispered in a familiar voice, lifting the arm that was draped across her and unpinning her.
Tears welled in her eyes and a happy sob escaped her lips as her sleep-addled mind finally discerned her reality. No she was not in her apartment, she was exactly where she wanted to be, where she dreamed of being, in the arms of the mammal whom she knew she loved.
"Judy?" that soft voice in her ears insisted, a familiar paw gripping and gently stroking her shoulder.
She turned to greet that wonderful, reassuring voice, and buried her face into Nick's shirt, breathing his scent deeply and calming herself.
"I'm fine," she whispered, "Just a bad dream, sort of."
"Want to talk about it?" he asked, trying not to sound half-asleep himself.
She shook her head, then realized he might not be able to see her movement and whispered, "Could you just… hold me for a bit? Until I fall asleep again?"
She didn't hear another word from the fox, but his arm immediately returned to pull her closely to his chest in a reassuring embrace. She sighed happily and snuggled in, feeling the blanket rustle between them.
This felt like pure bliss, and she idly wondered whether she could get away with calling them both in ill for their next shift just so they could spend the day like this, just holding each other. 'No, That would be way too suspicious,' she admitted. Besides, they had a nosy buffalo to prove wrong about her fox, and slacking off on their second day would not help.
She had tucked her phone under the pillow, and it still had enough charge to guarantee her alarm going off just after sunrise. She hoped Nick wouldn't mind the alarm, but it was a bit late to warn him now. Her internal clock told her she still had a few hours until then, at least, and they wouldn't need to be in the bullpen until 8:30am, so she had plenty of time to get to the precinct, take a shower, change back into her uniform and have breakfast somewhere along the way. She'd ask Nick about that; maybe he knew a good place.
'Okay, good plan. Now back to the snuggles.'
She let out a contented little sigh as she nuzzled into Nick's chest and allowed her mind to drift. Just a few more hours. They could get away with just a few more blissful hours of this. It all felt too right, and she was struck with the urge to steal a kiss from her handsome fox.
"Nick?" she whispered up at him, receiving no response but his steady breathing. He had already fallen back asleep.
Feeling a little daring, she leaned up and kissed him softly on the chin. When that got no reaction, she leaned a little further to kiss his cheek, and then further to kiss the corner of his mouth. That last earned a quiet snort and a whimper from the vulpine, and she retreated back to the safety and comfort of his embrace, once more tucking her head under his chin.
Her heart was racing and she had a feeling of elation, but she resisted the temptation to go further and risk waking him. He needed his rest; they both needed rest. A wave of tiredness crashed over her then, and she let it take her as she settled in with her partner, content in the knowledge that whatever challenges this city had to throw at them, they would be facing it together.
A/N: End of fluff!
And... End of Day One!
My goodness, it only took us ten chapters to get through their first official day as partners! The pace will start to pick up from here on out, though, and we might even get something actually resembling a plot! A fluff-ridden plot, to be sure, but plot nonetheless!
If you are enjoying this story, please be sure to give it a review, a follow, and a favorite (if you are so inclined). I like these things almost as much as I like chocolate, which you are also welcomed to give.
See you next week!