When Judy woke up she had no idea where she was or how she had got there. The ceiling above her was rough stone, glistening stalactites reflecting the light of an alchemical torch that must have been on the floor. She sat up gingerly; her entire body was aching and sore as though she had somehow crammed a month's worth of exercise into a single session. Nick was sprawled on his belly in front of her, his limbs splayed at odd angles and his tongue dangling out of his mouth as he quietly snored.
Seeing him suddenly brought back her memory of what had happened. She remembered the attack by the Ehecatls and her arm nearly being torn off and—she spun her head to look at her left arm so fast that her head swam and she nearly collapsed back to the floor.
Once the dizziness had subsided, Judy examined her arm as carefully as she could. It was completely wrapped in bandages from the tips of her fingers all the way up to her shoulder—the bandages even went under her quilted tunic through the ragged edge Nick must have made by cutting the sleeve off—but she had all of her fingers.
Relief washed over her as she experimentally flexed her fingers, each individually bandaged as though she was wearing a glove; they felt a little stiff, but the bandages were on the tight side. The clean cotton of the wrappings was covered with what she recognized as Nick's writing, the letters of incomprehensible words and symbols looking decidedly hurried as they wove in and out of geometric lines that had been drawn with far more precision.
Judy looked away from her miraculously intact arm to the mammal who had done it. Looking at Nick, who seemed more as though he had collapsed rather than simply fallen asleep, brought with it the memories of the story he had told her. Judy frowned, trying to put them in order. Her recollection was dream-like, things that she couldn't have possibly seen blending with what Nick had told her to the point she wasn't sure she could untangle them. But she remembered enough that she thought she had the thread of it, from what had driven him to become an alchemist without any formal instruction to what he had done with his ability.
Which included his admission that he had done work for the crime lord Tlatoani.
Protocol demanded that she arrest him and either give him over to a beat officer for processing or bring him directly to a City Guard outpost herself for questioning. It was all very clearly laid out in the written code she had sworn to uphold; Judy could picture the exact paragraph that laid it out as though the book was in front of her.
Judy watched as Nick shifted in his slumber. Any sly or cunning expression to his face had been erased by sleep so that she could project practically any emotion onto him. "Nick?" she said, tentatively.
He stirred again, yawning and stretching, and pushed himself into a sitting position before regarding her with bleary eyes. His fur was matted from how he had slept, chalk dust caked to him so thickly in places that he and his clothes had white spots. Judy could see he had fallen asleep atop a massive alchemical drawing, the lines somewhat blurred from where he had rubbed against them while asleep but still sharp enough to make out complex shapes and symbols that must have somehow connected him to her. As his eyes met hers, his expression suddenly sharpened.
Nick still looked tired—exhausted would probably be the better word—but his eyes were as bright as they ever were. "How do you feel?" he asked.
His face was uncharacteristically furrowed with concern, but there was something else to his expression that she couldn't name. Sorrow, perhaps? Did he regret opening up to her about his past? Judy pushed the thought aside. "A little sore, but you saved my life. And my arm," she said, smiling, "You're an amazing alchemist."
Judy held her arm in front of her, waggling her fingers. She had expected that Nick would be happy to see how well his alchemy had worked; she had certainly never heard of anyone but a master alchemist restoring such a terrible injury. Instead, though, his ears fell flat against his head. "About that," he said, and he leaned forward to grasp her left paw between his own.
Nick began unwinding the bandages from her fingers with an odd sort of hesitance Judy didn't understand. Just from how gingerly he did it she had half-expected to see something horrible, her flesh bare and covered with hideous scars that exposed raw bone. But her fingers looked almost normal. Almost.
All of her fingers were there, although the fur covering them was much darker than it normally was. She supposed that something he had used might have dyed her fur as a side effect, but as the bandages came clear of her wrist she realized that couldn't be it.
There was something off about her fingers; although they all moved when she tried waggling them they just somehow didn't look right, as though the proportions were wrong. There was something strange about the fur on her wrist and forearm, which was the same oddly dark color as that on her fingers, but it wasn't until the bandages were gone to about halfway up to her elbow that she realized what it was. The dark brown, which looked different than the rest of her fur, as though its texture wasn't the same, gradually gave way to a familiar red-orange.
Judy spun her paw around to look at her palm. Not only was the fur on it no longer white, she had pads. Paw pads, like no bunny did. But precisely like a fox. Or even more specifically, precisely like Nick.
Her heart was suddenly beating so loudly in her chest it was a wonder he couldn't hear it. Her mouth had gone completely dry as she couldn't help but stare at her altered paw in disbelief. There was no question, though, that it was somehow a part of her, her left arm and paw looking exactly like Nick's at a smaller scale.
Judy looked up from her palm, which didn't seem as though it was really hers anymore, to look at Nick. He pulled the rest of the bandages away but she didn't need to look to know what she would see. "I couldn't save your arm," he said, quietly.
He was averting his eyes, looking down at the ground. "If I had been a better alchemist, if I had a complete philosopher's stone... I don't know if anyone can fix—"
Judy didn't give him the chance to finish. It still made her head swim to move so fast, but she threw herself at him, wrapping both arms around his torso. He was warm in her grasp, and if things felt a little different in her left arm, what did it matter? She wasn't dead and she still had an arm. A very odd one, it was true, unlike any mammal she had ever seen before, but that was nothing. Perhaps she was now some kind of chimera, but the princess was a chimera and she was the heir to the throne no matter what anyone else thought. "You did save my arm," Judy said firmly, "And my life. I would have died without you, Nick."
He seemed uncomfortable in her grasp, and she gently pulled her arms away. "How did you do it?" Judy asked, "I've never seen anything like it."
Nick still seemed reluctant to look at her, but perhaps retreating into his knowledge of alchemy was enough, because he gave her the ghost of a smile. "I couldn't isolate the venom, and the imperfect philosopher's stones I made weren't working fast enough. So I... I copied my arm and about half my organs into you. After scaling them down the same way I did your sword," he said.
Nick gave a sort of half-shrug. "I got the idea out of an old book on chimeras but I didn't know if it would work," he finished simply.
Judy looked from him back to her left paw. It was still bizarre to have it so altered, but there was no questioning that it was a part of her. There was a line of demarcation about three inches past her shoulder where what remained of the arm she had been born with transitioned into the arm Nick had given her. The transition was somewhat blurred, gray and red-orange fur mixing together for a few inches, and there were some branching lines of fox fur that continued up into her bunny fur. Blood vessels, she supposed, with the skin above them altered by the alchemy Nick had done to connect her body to the new limb. "It's amazing," Judy said, "Thank you."
Nick shook his head vehemently. "I made you a chimera," he said, "You don't—"
"You think mammals might hate me for what I am now?" Judy asked, "That they might think I'm a freak?"
He nodded. "Do you hate me for what I am?" Judy asked.
Nick looked up from the floor, seeming surprised by the question. "Of course not!" he said.
"Then it doesn't matter," Judy replied, "I was already the first bunny to join the City Guard, you know. I can deal with anything other mammals say."
She was rewarded with a smile from Nick. A genuine one, the warmth of which seemed to go down to her heart. "I don't understand how you can be so optimistic," he said, shaking his head, "But it must not just be a bunny thing since you're part fox now."
Judy laughed. "It's who I am," she said, and then she gestured at her left arm, "This doesn't change that."
"Your brains are all still bunny," Nick replied, and there was something of his normal sly expression back on his face, "That must be it."
"It must be," Judy agreed, and she stood up.
It took her a moment to steady herself; she wasn't quite as dizzy as she had been when she had first woken up, but her entire body still ached. How much of that was due to the venom and how much was due to how Nick had made her whole again she couldn't even begin to guess; she thought it likely that no one alive had undergone what she had. All the chimeras she had ever heard of had been created prior to their birth, creating a totally new blend of two mammals. Having one limb from a different species, even if it had been appropriately sized to her other arm, was rather unique. But she had meant everything she said to Nick. If more mammals stared and whispered while she went about her job, it wouldn't bother her any more than the stares and whispers she had already gotten while still in Zootopia's heart. Besides, when she was wearing a uniform with an intact sleeve she doubted anyone would notice.
But she pushed all of that aside. "Nick," she said, and her heart was starting to race again, "There was something I wanted to ask you."
It seemed as though it had been ages ago when they had been standing together immediately before the monster savaged her arm and interrupted her. Nick was still sitting, and it made them almost the same height. Seeing him there, looking into his eyes without having to crane her neck up, made any words she might have fumbled over fall out of her mind.
She kissed him.
It was like nothing she had ever experienced, nothing like what the gossip of her older sisters had led her to expect. Her nose was full of the scent of him, strong and yet with a pleasantly floral undertone, and the taste of him against her tongue was indescribable. For an instant she could feel him against her, the sensation so strong there wasn't room for anything else. The entire world was just the two of them again, but there was no pain, no monsters. There was nothing to keep them apart and Judy wished the moment could last forever.
And then Nick pulled himself away.
"No," Nick said, "No, no, Judy—Carrots I can't. You must not remember, but—"
Judy pulled him closer again. "I remember the story you told me," she said.
He went suddenly limp, undisguised surprise etched on his face. "You do?"
"And you don't... Care?" Nick asked, his words delicate and hesitant.
His expression was heart-breaking. There was the usual somewhat cynical cast to his features, but Judy was sure she saw hope. Frail and small, but it was there, perhaps the ghost of what he had once had when he had dreamed of being taught by members of the Alchemist Guild. But if his life had taken that path, would it have ever intersected with hers? She couldn't be glad that he had experienced what he did, but she was very glad to have him.
Judy pulled herself close until her lips were almost touching his again, her fingers buried in the soft fur of his cheeks. "I'm going to want to hear all the details I didn't catch," she said, "But that can wait."
She kissed him again, and he didn't pull back until they were both out of breath. "It can."
It's come up in this story before that in order to create a new shape for an object using alchemy, it's necessary to either have an alchemical grid defining that shape or an actual physical object to copy. Nick used both when he made Judy's sword, first using an elaborate pattern drawn on a cloth to make the sword and then copying his own head in miniature for the pommel.
In this chapter, Nick's method for saving Judy is more or less the same as that latter example; not being able to transmute the venom into something harmless without causing more damage, he instead effectively overwrote Judy's injured arm with a copy of his own left arm (albeit at a smaller scale) and did the same for her injured internal organs.
Him noting that Judy's brain is still completely bunny isn't just me taking some artistic license. In many animals (and, notably, humans with our complex brains), there's something called the blood-brain barrier that effectively isolates the brain from pathogens. Essentially, there's a semipermeable membrane (more or less a sieve that keeps molecules above a certain size out) rather than a direct connection, and this has several benefits. First and foremost, it's a function of your brain's immune system; this kind of isolation means that blood-born infections reaching the brain are extremely rare, since not much can cross the blood-brain barrier if it's functioning correctly. An infection of your brain is a notably bad thing, since it generally doesn't handle inflammation very well.
In this case, it can be assumed that whatever venom the Ehecatls secrete is composed of molecules large enough not to be able to cross the brain-blood barrier. If it had, Nick's efforts to save Judy would probably be rather unsuccessful, or would at least result in some pretty radical changes if he copied over chunks of her brain with his own.
This change for Judy was actually one of the first parts of the story that I wrote; I got the mental image of Judy with one fox arm and then the story kind of expanded in both directions around that as I worked out what led up to that moment and what came after. There were a lot of revisions between that initial idea and the chapter that you just read now, but I thought it was a pretty striking thing to have happen. Rabbits do indeed lack paw pads (a detail you can see in the movie with Judy) while foxes do have them, which would be quite the difference for Judy to experience.
As to everything else in this chapter, well, I've always figured that chapters should be as long or as short as necessary. This one ended up on the short side compared to others, but as it's the end result of an enormous amount of buildup it didn't seem right to make it any longer. I do hope you enjoyed it, but as always I'd love to hear what you thought!