In a bright meadow, the sun shines down from a clear blue sky. A hint of wind stirs the grass, and breathes a sigh through the boughs of the nearby trees. The air is warm. Birds sing unseen, insects chirp, and everything is calm. In a warren dug into a hillside, in the cool darkness, a rabbit is having her kits. Her breaths come quickly and her eyes are glazed over with effort, her paws dug into the dirt. Her sides heave as she pants, but she feels no anxiety. They will come, or they won't.
It is a litter of nine, average in every way, no cause for joy or sorrow — if these rabbits could feel such things anyway. Yes, these kits are all perfectly fine. None of them are malformed or stunted, although none of them are exceptional either. None of them, that is, except for one. For while her littermates all have eyes of blue, the eyes of this particular rabbit are a vibrant purple. And like her eyes, the life of this rabbit will be far out of the ordinary.
On the other side of the meadow, in a small den beneath a large bush, a vixen is also giving birth. Like her counterpart, this vixen feels the strain of the act, yet troubles herself not with the outcome. She, too, finds herself the mother of several healthy kits — four, in this case — and settles herself down to nurse them. And like her counterpart, she has one kit that's not like the others. Although he appears in almost every respect to be a normal fox kit, where his siblings have blue eyes too, one little fox has eyes of a brilliant green. Upon seeing this, you might think that emerald green eyes are unusual for a fox. You might also recall thinking that purple eyes are definitely unusual for a rabbit. And if you are even mildly prone to flights of fancy, you might imagine that the fates of these two odd-eyed mammals are somehow connected. Well, worry not, for if you do think all these things, then you are most definitely right.
So these two different kits, each in their own way, begin the long and slow process of growing up. One spends much of her time in a dark burrow, learning to navigate with touch and smell. She feels the vibrations of movement around her, and sees the sun only through the opening of her burrow. The other remains curled up in his mother's den, scuffling with his brothers and sisters, while his mother works herself to find enough food for them all without a mate to help. Both the fox and the rabbit are still too young to venture outside the safety of their respective holes, especially without a guardian nearby.
After a few weeks, however, they soon grow old enough to leave their homes for short periods of time. The rabbits carefully creep out to nibble on short grasses and clover, always watching for predators. The kits follow suit, experiencing everything for the first time. Although rabbits by nature aren't very inquisitive, one shows herself to be different from the rest. The purple-eyed bunny, now soft gray with a white underbelly, looks beyond her paws and peers out at the sky, the trees, and the clouds. She does as best she can with her range of movement, for rabbits aren't built to look up at the sky, but what she sees only piques her interest. She wants to explore everything, heedless of the danger lurking in the underbrush, and continually forces her elders to corral her back to the group.
The solitary vixen, in contrast to her more timid prey, must raise her kits alone, without the benefit of others to help gather food. Yet she does her best, bringing back small animals and insects, and eventually takes them out to explore. She watches them carefully and never leaves them alone, but she allows them to satisfy their curiosity. To them, just as to the rabbits, everything is new and exciting. The little green-eyed cub in particular is fascinated by everything - bugs, leaves, and brightly-colored mushrooms. He more than the rest tests his mother's patience, and her vigilance. It's a dangerous world, and without a mate, any lost kits can't be replaced. In fact, within a few months, this kit will be the only one left.
So each mammal, fox and rabbit, is quickly growing up, although they have yet to reach their adult proportions, or even to approach them. But the first indicator of these mammals' entanglement comes roughly a month after their birth, on a cloudy spring day. The foxes are out of their den, their mother teaching them how to hunt, while the rabbits are feeding in the meadow. On this particular day, the kit with the purple eyes is feeling unusually energetic, and takes advantage of her guardians' lapse in attention to slip away into the forest. This is the first time she's ever been in the woods, and the furthest she's ever been from the warren. All around her are unfamiliar sights and smells, vying for her attention.
Ordinarily, a little rabbit alone in the woods would be snapped up within minutes by a larger predator. But the fates are smiling upon her this day, and as the young doe wanders deeper amongst the trees, she goes unnoticed. At the same time, unsurprisingly, the little fox kit is also meandering through the forest. As his mother carefully stalks a small vole, he catches an interesting scent and followed it, only to be distracted by a patch of intriguing flowers, and so on. Normally his mother would notice at once that he's gone, and carry him back to the others, but she is intent on showing her other kits how to hunt.
Nose twitching, the little bunny pads through the brush, looking for something to eat. Meanwhile the young fox catches her scent and begins tracing it. He's never seen a rabbit before, and her signature is unfamiliar to him. Ears perked, tail swishing, he advances into a small clearing, just as the other one enters from the opposite side. Taken aback, they stop and stare at each other, emerald eyes meeting lavender. The rabbit knows enough to be afraid of foxes, but sees that he's clearly just a kit, and doesn't seem to be hunting. The fox, for his part, doesn't feel any desire to attack. He's curious. Her scent is enticing.
Careful not to startle her, he approaches, pacing smoothly along the forest floor. The doe would be terrified if she had more experience, or if the fox was acting in a threatening manner. As it is, his bright red coat and bushy tail pique her interest. He's much flashier than her drably colored siblings, and he seems more alive than any of them. She sits still and lets him come, eyes wide but not with fear. He circles round and noses under her chin, her ears, her neck. She leans into his cheek, smelling the musky scent of a predator, unaware of how unique their situation is.
Just then, the clouds which have been steadily growing above them break open, and rain begins to fall — slowly at first, then in a torrent. Without a burrow nearby, the two mammals make for a hollow log and huddle within. A few drips make it through, but that's preferable by far to the deluge beyond. In the enclosed space, they're pressed together with little room to spare. Each finds themselves oddy comforted, however, despite their species. Though the air is chilly, they press together for warmth, and fall alseep, heedless of anything unusual. The fox's tail curls around the bunny as they breathe slowly, nestled close.
After a few hours, the rain has almost entirely stopped, when a snuffling sound comes from outside the log. Claws peel away the rotten wood, and a large snout pokes through the gap. The two sleeping mammals are awakened as the fox kit is lifted rudely out of his makeshift den. It's his mother, who traced his scent and is bringing him back home. With a squeak he's grabbed by the scruff of the neck and carried away, his mother paying little attention to the rabbit cowering with fear within. Now alive to her danger, and without any companion, the little bunny bolts for her burrow as fast as she can go, once more escaping without injury.
After this eventful meeting, the lives of the two kits continue on in much the same way. Months pass as they continue to grow, occupied with the business of staying alive from day to day.
Their second meeting takes place roughly six weeks after the first. Now almost fully grown, the green-eyed fox is out hunting on his own, looking for mice or rats, when he catches the scent of rabbit. Quickly he lopes towards the meadow, green with the full flush of summer, where his prey is out feeding. He's never yet caught a rabbit himself, though his mother has shown him how. Prowling through the undergrowth, he stops at the edge of the forest and watches. There are half a dozen rabbits in the field. Every so often, they stop and look around, but their ears monitor everything. He'll have to be stealthy and fast.
The doe with the purple eyes is nibbling on a small flower when she hears movement. Looking up, she sees a fox dash in, a blur of speed, to snatch a rabbit just a few yards from her. The others are bolting as fast as they can go, back to the burrow. She knows she should go with them, but for some reason this fox doesn't frighten her. That's when she recognizes his scent, and his beautiful russet coat, and recalls a dim memory of a rainy afternoon spent in a hollow log. She crouches down and waits.
Still holding the rabbit in his mouth, the red fox spies the lone doe watching him. For a moment, he thinks of killing her as well, before he remembers that he knows her. Dropping his kill, he steps forward, then back. They eye each other warily. Neither one moves for several seconds, before the fox picks up his prey and returns to the woods.
After that, they see each other four more times. Twice while the fox passes by the edge of the forest, visible only as a smear of crimson and cream amid the dusky shadows, once on the crest of a hill at twilight, and once in the early morning when he grabs a buck from the edge of the group as they feed. Each time, she watches him calmly, and he returns her gaze. Once he almost begins to approach her, before appearing to decide against it. Why? Who knows?
Their most important meeting comes three months after their second, as summer gives way to autumn. Now fully grown, the fox with the emerald eyes has lost all of his siblings to starvation or predators, and his mother has died from illness, while the purple-eyed doe is also short several littermates. A large badger has moved into the fox's territory, and said fox has spent several days tracking it. This badger doesn't seem inclined to respect territory markers.
Feeding in the meadow, the doe is about to return to her burrow, when she spies the fox at the edge of the woods. Oddly enough, he's not watching her. Instead, his gaze is trained on a large badger approaching him. He snarls, lashing his tail, but the badger doesn't back off. Growls and posturing quickly escalate when the striped mammal slashes the fox across the muzzle, who retaliates with his claws. The badger flees deeper into the woods, as the fox pursues his foe.
As far as anybody knows, there is absolutely no reason why any rabbit would follow a fox anywhere, especially one engaged in a fight with another predator, and especially when the sun is going down. This goes against just about every survival instinct a rabbit has.
But that is what happens.
Although frightened, the small rabbit makes her way into the woods, on the fox's trail. The brush is disturbed, and there's blood in places. The conflict between the two predators has scared away most of their competition, like ferrets and stoats, which is probably the only reason she can make it through alive.
After a few tense minutes, the doe emerges into a small clearing, where the limp form of the red fox immediately catches her attention. His beautiful red coat, once glossy and pristine, is marred with bites and scratches. The badger's body lies some feet away, fur dyed red. Hearing the faint sounds of breathing, she carefully makes her way over to the tod, watching his sides rise and fall. Gently she leans in and starts licking his wounds, cleaning the matted fur and blood. The rhythm of his breathing changes as he begins to wake, but she doesn't pause.
He raises his head, claw marks drawn over his cheek, and watches her. She looks up. Emerald eyes meet amethyst, a moment of connection deeper than the surface, before he rises and hobbles awkwardly to a hollow log. She follows.
Although neither knows it, this is the same clearing where they first met, and the same log in which they now settle themselves. They've both grown, him in particular, and it's a tighter fit than when they were kits, but they're both used to squeezing through small spaces. He curls up and closes his eyes as she continues to tend him, tail wrapping around her. After a few hours, they are both asleep — just as they were when they were kits.
The next day, the rabbit awakens first, the fox still out. Carefully she steps over him and out, to feed in the morning light, alert for any sign of danger. As attentive as she is, however, she misses the weasel crouching in the shadows across the clearing. Rabbits never come into the forest, and no predator would pass up the chance for an easy meal. Eyes glinting, it crawls forward, ready to strike.
Too late she spots the danger as it leaps forward, jaws bared. A swift kick is enough to throw off her attacker for a moment, but the weasel rebounds and pins her down. Biting furiously, she claws at her opponent, but it isn't deterred. Within a few seconds, it'll go for her throat, and everything wil be over.
Still half-asleep, the red fox catches the scent of blood, of an enemy nearby, of the rabbit —
In one fluid movement, a red blur launches out of the log and slams into the unsuspecting weasel, breaking its neck with a single jerk. He tosses the body carelessly to one side and moves to the rabbit, lying on her side. Her breaths come in rapid pants and blood is oozing from several marks on her flanks. Cautiously he noses at her, before picking her up in his teeth with the utmost delicacy and carrying her through the forest, trotting towards his den.
Though used only infrequently, the den still smells strongly enough of fox to keep other potential occupants out, and is therefore empty. Slipping inside, the tod sets down his friend and watches her anxiously. Noticing a few large scratches, he leans in and runs his tongue over them, cleaning away the blood and grime. She stirs slightly, eyes shut tight against the pain. Gently he continues. When all of her wounds are clean, he wraps himself securely around her and nuzzles her head. Opening her eyes, she peers up at him, before pressing herself more closely against his side and running her chin over his fur, chirring softly. Eyes half-lidded, the russet-furred fox presses his cheek against her head and over her back, marking her. They stay like that for a while, impressing their scents on each other's fur, before falling asleep. The odors of rabbit and fox mingle in the air, just as their red and grey coats mingle in the dark, wound tightly around each other, blending into one.
Sunlight streams in through the windows, falling on the bodies of two mammals curled up together, red fur and grey. The rabbit, though still in her pajamas, has nestled herself into the thick chest fur of a fox, surrounded by blankets that threaten to spill over the couch and onto the floor. The television is still on, albeit muted.
With a yawn, the fox opens his emerald eyes and stretches, careful not to disturb the small bunny on top of him. He loves this, although he'll never tell her that. She's just so adorable when she's asleep. Calm, peaceful, ears hanging down and nose twitching almost imperceptibly as she breathes. He could watch her for hours. Oh, now she's frowning about something. Maybe a bad dream? Her eyebrows scrunch up and her nose wrinkles in the cutest way. The fox stifles a snicker at the thought of what might get her worked up in a dream. Maybe someone disturbing the peace, or spraying graffiti in an alleyway.
Slowly, her face eases, the lines leveling out as her frown disappears, to be replaced by a soft smile. It's like she's trying to look as cute as possible. With a little sigh, she pushes her face deeper into his fur and murmurs quietly. His heart is going to keel over from the fluff, and if he smiles any wider, his face will break in half. He wouldn't trade this moment for anything.
With a little yawn, she stretches and gives out a tiny squeak as she wakes up, ears flopping down over her face. Did he think she couldn't get any cuter? He's been proven wrong. "Oh, Nick," she mumbles sleepily, eyes half-lidded. "I just had the most beautiful dream."
"Mm-hmm?" he says politely, not even trying to hide his grin.
"Oh, yeah," she says, smiling at the memory, as she draws herself up on her elbows. "It was us, living in the, um... mm. Before Zootopia, when mammals were still savage. We were living out in the countryside somewhere, and we were both little kits, and because you were a fox I knew I should be afraid of you, but since you were so little I wasn't scared of you, and..."
Nick nods along with her story, only half listening, eyes fixed on her. Her face lights up as she tells her story, paws waving animatedly, and her amethyst eyes are sparkling as she goes on about how scary everything was in her dream, but even as a savage fox he wasn't frightening at all... It's the most precious thing he's ever seen. He swears to himself, as he has so many times before, that he'll never let anything happen to her. She's too important to him to ever lose.
"... so you were all beat up, but you still jumped right at that weasel, and carried me to your den where I'd be safe, and licked all my scratches and everything —" there's a bit of a blush on her face as she relates this part — "and then we just curled up together and went to sleep, and I knew that no matter what, you'd protect me if anything happened."
Then she looks up at him with the most sincere, trusting, smile on her face, that he swears he's about to keel over and die on the spot. His heart is literally going to melt and turn to goo inside his chest.
But he can't completely let go of his hustler persona, so he says deadpan, "Well, I have to say that I completely approve of Primitive Me's actions, although the licking seems a bit much. I mean, you know I would absolutely murder a weasel for you. Slick Nick, one-man hit squad, reporting for duty, sir!"
"Nick!" she says, laughing, as she whacks him gently. "Seriously. I'd trust you with my life, you know?" And how is he supposed to respond to that?
"Fluff," he says, trying and completely failing to hide his emotion, "Judy. I... I'd never let anything happen to you. Ever. No matter what."
And he wants to say more, but he doesn't know how to put into words how much she means to him, and he doesn't want to make it weird or anything, so he just puts his arms around her and gives her the biggest hug he can. And they sit like that for a while. And he thinks to himself, even if they were living in savage prehistory, or a hundred years in the future, or on opposite sides of the earth, he would find her, and keep her safe. Because that's what best friends do.