[AN

Hey there!

Just a little one-shot to make do with the recent events, focused mostly on fluff.

Gotta keep smiling after all!

AN]

"A MONTH? Chief, you can't' be serious?" Judy was desperate, every mammal in the briefing room could hear it. Of course, none found it surprising. Not only was the bunny known for her dedication and hard work, accumulating more extra hours than everybody else except for Bogo himself, but they all knew how impatient she could be. Staying home for a whole week-end was already hard sometimes, but being locked home for a whole month was close to hell on earth for her.

"Mayor's orders, Hopps. This virus is too virulent to take risks. We will keep patrolling here and there to make sure mammals throughout the city follow the health recommendations and avoid any unnecessary drives. Orders are clear and they apply to all: you can only leave your home for food runs, taking care of sick or mammals in need such as your elders, or once in a while to keep your sanity. I expect all of you to show the example to our city. These are hard times, but this city has seen endured worse. Keep your phones on, I'll call each one of you to give you your patrolling orders. Any questions?"

Judy was about to raise her paw, but a glare from the buffalo was enough to dissuade her to. He had known from the moment he had received the mayor's orders that she would have been the hardest to deal with. Cutting short to protests was his best course of action, and it worked like a charm. Not that he liked treating one of his best officers this way, but there was just nothing he could do. Seeing no one else had anything to add, he spoke his final word for the day.

"Dismissed."

All the officers gathered in the main hall, some rather happy to have some time home, others worried that even they would be out of the streets. Judy was standing on the edge of the group, alone. Her ears were down on her back, and she could barely refrain her tears.

"A whole month. Kill me now. A whole month. Kill me now." She kept mumbling the words again and again, completely oblivious to her colleagues. Until a red digit booped her twitching nose.

"Come on, Carrots. Think of it as surprise holydays! You'll be able to stay on the farm with your family and enjoy your youngest siblings. Didn't you say it was nice to take care of them from times to times?"

"Nick, I can't go home! Didn't you listen to the mayor's speech?" Nick shrugged.

"You know, me and politics..." Judy groaned.

"Nick, city hall has declared a total curfew! No trains get in or out till yesterday! I can't go home!" The fox raised his brows. He hadn't thought things would have escalated so quickly.

"Hum, o-kay. Then just take the opportunity to get started on your novel. You've always managed to find excuses not to find the time to start. Here's your chance!" But the bunny wasn't convinced, and she bowed her head once more.

"Even if I start, I won't be able to write all day long, for a whole month. I'm a beginner, that's not how it works!"

"How do you know if you're a beginner? Maybe it will come naturally."

"Nick, I can't stay home this long. You've been to my apartment! I don't even have a TV! And with Bucky and Pronk next door all day long..." The rabbit's face grey fur visibly whitened at the thought, and she began shaking slightly. Seeing the fear clutch at his friend's heart, the fox took a leap of faith. Scratching the back of his neck, he began in a hesitating voice.

"Well...hum... You know, they say you're supposed to stay home, but they didn't say WHICH home..." Judy's ears stood straight up and she looked at the fox with big round eyes. She must have misheard. Or misunderstood. Or misinterpreted. Or all of the above. Right?

"I mean... you've already crashed at my place for movie nights, so... you know, if you want, you could... I mean, you know I've got a spare room, and a big couch, and a TV, and a nice internet connection, and a kitchen, and a fridge, and a big bathroom, and... Huh, I mean, a lot of mammals do, it's not exceptional or anything, but since you don't, I thought... I mean, not that I'm criticizing or anything! I'm not, you took what you could when you came is all! I'm just saying that... and maybe I should just shut up now. Yeah I think I should do that. Definitely."

And for a couple seconds, he did. But then he looked at his shocked and perplexed friend and something in him decided he had not been dumb enough for the day.

"Well, I was thinking that maybe, if you're okay with it, you could... you know..." He paused for another moment and then started waving his paws in front of him.

"But it would be okay if you were not! I mean, why would you be okay, right? Ah ah. Beingstuckalldayinafoxdenwithmearoundforamonthand..." Nick was blushing hard and the words were now escaping his lips frantically. Seeing the usually smug fox in this state was something new for Judy. Something that made her smile. Time for a little payback, she thought without an ounce of regrets.

"Nick?" Hearing her saucy voice made the fox stop dead in his never ending and completely unintelligible tirade. He sent her a timid smile.

"Yes, Carrots?"

"Did I hear correctly, Mr. Fox?" Her voice was now dripping with smugness, something she had learnt spending her day shifts with the fox. She also took a step closer and tugged his tie, bringing him at eye level. She heard him gulp. Hard.

"Are you inviting me to live with you?" Nick laughed awkwardly, completely taken aback by the bunny's sudden change of behavior.

"Live with me? No no no! Not at all! Just... you know... roomies? Forced roomies?" Since she had taken her first step towards him, he hadn't crossed her gaze, and still hadn't. Judy could see in his fleeing gaze that he was totally and utterly frightened. She loved every second.

"Hmmm. I don't know. Locked with a sly fox in his den for a whole month. Who knows what could happen?" Seeing he was not going to answer, she pressed on, tugging harder and bringing her muzzle to his ear to whisper.

"Have you prepared some surprise for this meek prey, Mr. Predator?" This was the last straw. Jumping backwards suddenly, Nick managed to escape Judy's grip and straightened is back.

"Wow, Carrots. A simple no would have sufficed, you know." He started adjusting his tie, but stopped when Judy spoke again, a huge smile plastered on her face.

"No? I don't remember saying no, Slick. Of course I'd like to stay at your place, roomie! Come on, I got a few things to pick up at my place." And she was on her way to the front door, bumping the fox with her hips as she walked near him, her previous fears of the lockdown vanished. The vulpine was staring at her back, jaw open and mind blank.

"You coming, Slick?" Judy's call echoed in the hall. Nick shook his head and made a step toward the door. That's when the silence struck him. Turning his head slowly, he saw that all the officers had witnessed their little exchanged, and, if their smiles and Bogo's hoof keeping Ben's squeal at bay were any proof, had overheard some of it too. Wolfard even mouthed a "good luck, Mr. Fox" before sending him a wink.

Nick sighed, and, shoulders slumped, he walked to his fate. What have I done was his last thought while waving his goodbye and exiting the ZPD for a what would surely be a very, very, VERY, long month.

OoO

The trip to Judy's apartment was quick. All her belongings, including toiletries, clothes, a few trinkets and lots of stuffed animals, went into two cases, and she was ready to become roomie with her partner. An idea that was awakening strange feelings in her. When he offered to host her – his unease and hesitation still bringing a smile to her face – a strange warmth had quickly built in her belly, followed by a funny tingle she had never experienced before, and couldn't fully understand.

So, it was excited and a bit anxious that she made it inside her friend's apartment. Already knowing the place well, she made it to the guest room and set her things up without asking twice. Once again, with only two bunny size cases, this didn't take long. When she was done, she met Nick in the kitchen, making them tea. Hearing her come inside, he spoke without turning his head.

"Finally set up Carrots? You sure took your time." She could hear the smile in his voice, back to his usual taunting.

Game's already on, Slick? Just bring it on then, Judy thought.

"Aaaaaawwwwwww, did you miss your little bunny that much?" She saw him tense a bit, but he quickly shrugged the comment away. Not enough, huh? Fine then.

"Soooooooooo" she began, taking the same tone she had hustled him with earlier. She sit at the table, put her elbows on the table, and put her head on her paws, looking straight at his back, waiting for him to turn around.

"What did you have in mind Mr. Fox? Your prey is there now. Time to put that plan of yours to fruition." She expected a lot of reactions. A good laugh, followed by a witty comment. Another shrug or wave of the paws. His own flirty remark, like he enjoyed sending her during their shifts. Mostly, she wanted to see him panic like he had in the ZPD, it was so sweet to see the smug fox look so insecure.

She had just forgotten one thing. A tiny little detail most mammals forget about until it's too late.

Karma's a bitch.

Taken completely by surprise once again, the fox let go of the cup he was holding and it crashed on his foot, shattering in pieces, cutting deep enough to make him bleed, and burning him with the boiling liquid. His pained yelp rang throughout the entire apartment, and assaulted the overly emotional bunny, who couldn't help but shout too.

"Oh God, Nick, I'm sorry! Nick, you okay? Nick? Please answer me!" But the fox was forcing his mouth shut, eyes closed and claws digging in the wooden kitchen counter, trying his best to keep the pain inside and not let out another yelp. But even in his state, he could hear the first sobs escaping the bunny's lips. Taking a long and deep breath, he tried to ease her the only way he knew how.

"I know you hate being second Carrots, but beating me to the tears while I'm the one burnt and bleeding, it's a bit much, don't you think?"

Humor. What better way to ease tensions and get mammals to smile? Nick knew better than anyone its power, as it had helped him get out of trouble times and times again, while hustling in the streets. Well, more precisely, it had helped him distract angry mammals so that he could make his escape more easily. How could it not work now?

Well, being a dumb fox and reminding to your audience that you were actually hurt because of them was a pretty good way to go.

On hearing her gasp and then her sobs getting faster, he realized he had only made things worse. Sighing, he tried to smile at her.

"Sorry, Carrots. Sounded better in my head. But don't worry, it's not the first time it happens. And as you can hear, I'm already good. So, could you just get the first-aid kit from the bathroom please? It's under the sink."

"Oh, right!" she answered, her eyes opening wide as she realized she hadn't think of that sooner.

Judy then quickly ran to the bathroom, muttering something along the lines of "dumb emotional bunny". Nick heard the door being slammed open, then her rumbling through his things until she finally found what she was looking for. To his surprise though, she took it directly to the living room.

"Hum, Carrots? My foot is in the kitchen, you know?"

"Ah-ah. Just shut up and at least let me help. With a family as big as mine, cuts, bruises and burns are as common as colds and stomach aches." That being said, she came back to him and helped him walk to the couch, making sure he could lean his weight on her and that his foot remained in the air. She had set pillows on the couch she sit him on them, his back on the armrest. Then she sit next to him and took his leg in her lap.

"Now, stay still." Nick was too shocked to answer, so he simply nodded. His friend had just gone from crying to motherly in less than one minute. No matter how many times he thought he knew her, she always managed to surprise him. This was the third time this day, and he had invited her for a whole month. Wonder what's next, he thought. That's when Judy started to work on his foot.

"Okay, nothing's serious. One of the cuts is a little deeper, that's why it bled, but actually the blood was mixed with the tea and became more liquid, that's why it looked worse than it really is." With that, she carefully removed every bit of porcelain from his fur. Then she cleaned the wounds slowly, making sure not to hurt him more. When the cut was clean enough, she disinfected it with alcohol, before applying some cream and a bandage.

"There! Good as new! Feeling better, Slick?"

Was Nick feeling better? Yes, yes he was. On the field, he was always looking out for her, not only as a partner but as a friend. A very good friend. She had taken him out of the misery of a life of hustles and danger. She had given him an honest job, a home, friends, a reason to be proud of himself. Heck, she had even managed to make him call his mother now that he could stop being a disappointment to her. All in one, she had saved him, and he would be eternally grateful for that. So every time they were sent on a case, his only priority was her safety.

But right now, laying on his couch under her care, her soft paws caressing his fur in slow and gentle motions, he had never been better. Something in all of this was just feeling… right. He had enjoyed every single second of it. But it was time to come back to reality, and hide his true feelings under a huge dose of his usual dark humor.

"Meh. At least now I have a real reason not to leave this place. Thanks for making things easier on me, Carrots." He then sit correctly. Seeing her gloomy face come back, he quickly added.

"Come on, just kidding. Thanks for the help. Though I'm a grown fox you know, I could have taken care of it myself, bunny Ma." Judy finally smiled.

"Least I can do, Slick." Then she elbowed him in the guts.

"And that's for calling me Ma!"

And the two went back to their usual banter, laughing and teasing each other until bed time.

OoO

The following morning, the two went to the local supermarket to make supplies. Sure, the stores would remain open throughout the curfew, but this didn't mean they couldn't take extra precautions. The accident of the eve was proof enough that anything could happen. To make it more efficient, they decided to shop separately, each of them buying what they would need to make do. They had also decided it would be best to each buy some food for themselves. Nick for example went to the predator aisles, buying some meals with bugs in them, while Judy bought vegetables she knew Nick wasn't fond of, such as eggplants and cucumbers.

It took them three hours, with half that time queuing to pay. Looked like half the city had the same idea. Lots of mammals were looking nervous, some had masks on their muzzles while some were trying to keep their distances as much as possible, though with the sheer number of mammals in the store it was nearly impossible. Still, it was much better than during the NightHowler crisis. At least there was no blame assigned, just a general anxiety to fall ill, which was not uncommon for some during winter.

When they finally managed to get home, it was already noon, but they first had to store all they had bought, which took nearly another hour. Judy stored all the food in the fridge, while Nick, used to his kitchen, stored the rest. The veggie wraps they had bought for their meal were quickly swallowed, and they could finally relax on the couch. Well, not for long at the beginning.

Both sat on opposite sides of the couch, back resting on the armrests. When they tried to lay completely, their feet touched. With a sadistic smile, Nick tried to grab Judy's feet and tickle her. With a loud "yeeeeeeeeeeeeep", the bunny started waving her legs frantically, trying to repel the assaults. And as the saying goes: the best defense is attack. In a blur, she managed to pull her legs under her, while her arms stretched forwards to grab him.

Seeing his plan about to backfire, the fox became a sore loser. Backing down, he took one of the pillows and hit her in the face. The bunny stopped dead, looking at him with the mouth opened in shock.

"Okay, Slick. This means war!" And with a ferocious war cry began a fiery pillow fight that ultimately led to the bunny standing proudly above the defeated fox. He had his arms crossed in front of his head, weaponless and defenseless.

"I surrender! I surrender! Mercy please!" Judy was grinning, one arm on her hip, the other raised high above her head with a pillow ready to strike.

"I have nearly three hundred siblings, Nick. Did you really think you could beat me at pillow fight?" Nick thought about it for a couple seconds, and groaned.

"Hugh, should have thought about it sooner. No wonder my jaw feel sore now" he said, massaging his muzzle.

"Yep!" she answered proudly, insisting on the "p". "Haven't lost since I was eleven!" Nick raised his brows, and began smiling awkwardly.

"And what does the victor want from the vanquished?"

"Hum? What?" On seeing her perplex face, he laughed.

"Well, you said it yourself, it was war, and you won. You have a right to spoils of war." The bunny put a finger on her chin and began thinking of what she could ask.

"Whatever I want?" Nick smiled a bit shyly but nodded anyway.

"Well, as long as you're not sending me to your apartment for the coming month." She giggled.

"Keep your apartment for myself, huh? I like that idea Slick." Nick gulped. But she didn't let him protest.

"No, I got a better idea for you, Slick. Take off your shirt." Nick looked at her for a moment, then barked out in laughter. It took him another moment to calm down, wiping at his eyes.

"Nice one Carrots. Nearly got me there." Then his smile disappeared on seeing the smug expression on her face.

"Carrots? You're…. you're not being serious. Right?" But she just kept staring at him, never letting go of her grin. She even crossed her arms on her chest.

"Ca… Carrots?" Nick could swear he felt a drop of sweat flowing slowly down his back.

"You heard me. Take off your shirt." Nick hesitated again, but she had won after all. And though she had already proven to be as sly as him if she wanted, she was also a reasonable mammal, wasn't she? So he just shrugged and obeyed. Once his chest was bare, he opened his mouth but she put her paw on it and cut him short.

"Tssssst. No more talking for you." Seeing his confused expression, she took two pillows and put them on the armrest, then waved at him.

"Lie down. On your back". With another shrug, he obeyed. Once comfortable, he looked at her and raised his brow.

"Anything to say, Slick?" Nick wanted to answer, but knew better. He just shook his head, though his eyes were still sending her a questioning gaze. She patted his chest.

"That's a good pillow." He didn't have the time to fully process her words before she lied down on him. Completely. She needed a few tries to get comfortable, but she finally managed to, her head resting on his chest, her ears tingling the tip of his nose, her arms spread around his slim form.

"Hmmmmm. We should do it more often. You're quite a comfy roomie." Nick didn't answer. Not that he was obeying her order, but he was too nervous to find anything to say. That, and whatever he would have tried to say would have died in his throat anyway. So he remained there, trying to compose himself, battling with his instincts yelling at him to close his arms on her and never let go again.

"Nick?" Her voice was low, just a whisper.

"Yes, Carrots?"

"When this is over, I'm dragging you to the gym."

"Huh?"

"You're getting rusty, grandpa. You shouldn't be that tired after such a small exercise." Understanding what she meant, he just chuckled.

"Sorry, Carrots. Been a long time since we really had to chase perps on foot, guess I've been slacking a bit."

Judy didn't answer. Her head was still resting directly above his racing heart, letting the fast but steady pulse lullaby her to unconsciousness. Ten minutes later, she was completely still, her breathing even and her small frame rising and falling with her living pillow's chest.

Nick was torn. He had dreamt of this moment for months. But now that he was living it, he couldn't dare take advantage of it. The rational part of his brain knew it wasn't possible. She wasn't his, and would never be. A predator and a prey. A fox and a bunny. Those kind of relationship was not meant to be. Still, he couldn't deny the warmth he was feeling, not only on his chest but deep inside too. This was a sweet torture.

Time seemed to slow to a stop and the fox just waited for the seconds to flow one by one, mocking him, tempting him. Until, after how long he couldn't say, he felt her move. One of her paw gripped his fur on his side and a small groan escaped her lips. His body bypassing his brain and moving on its own, the fox brought his paw on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. This seemed to work, as her fist unclenched and she let out a long and deep content sigh. The fox kept his paw where it was, moving only his thumb through the soft grey fur, enjoying every second of it, but not daring more.

Then, her ears twitched and tickled the tip of his nose. Trying to hold on a sneeze to not disturb her, he grabbed one gently and moved it aside. Doing so, he felt her tense and her paws grabbed him once again, harder than before. He let go, but his digits brushed the tender skin under the fur when the ear slipped through his paw. The result was immediate. The bunny arched her back, then moaned in his chest.

The fox was lost by the signals she was sending, and panic started to grip his already hurting heart. Had he hurt her? Should he wake her and put an end to this? He was about to, when something stopped him. Judy's paws were caressing his sides, hiding under his rougher fur. The feel was exquisite to the vulpine and he selfishly decided to wait a bit before waking her. Not that he was proud of himself, but something primal had awaken inside and short-circuited everything else.

Then his own ears twitched. Focusing, he could hear her still moaning slightly in his chest fur. Slowly, he reached for her ear again, and stroke it from the tip to the base in a slow and caring motion. The bunny increased her grip on his fur and buried her head deeper on his chest. Taking it as a good sign, he continued his ministrations, alternating between the two ears, and between the exterior and the velvety interior. For dozens of minutes, he enjoyed her feel, her moans, her own unconscious caresses, her hot breath on his chest.

Deep inside however, his joy of their closeness was being crushed by sorrow. Sorrow that he was actively taking advantage of her unconscious body for his own pleasure. Sorrow that it wouldn't mean a thing to her as she wouldn't remember any of it. And harder than anything else, sorrow that it would end at some point, and that he would never be able to live this moment again. Even with the love of his life in his arms, and he knew it was futile to deny what she now meant to him, he couldn't stop the tears that escaped his eyes.

"Sleep well, my dear bunny." He whispered to her, stopping his caresses and just closing his arms around her small form. She seemed to lean into the embrace, but went still again, returning to her peaceful slumber, oblivious to the pain she was inflicting to her friend who remained there, eyes fixing the ceiling and tears still wetting the fur on his cheeks.

OoO

Sometime later, Judy started to return to the world around her. Blinking to force her eyes to adjust to the ambient light, she tried to move, but stopped when something accompanied her movement under her. When her eyes fully adjusted, she recognized the red fur and gasped. Slowly, very slowly, she got off him and landed on the floor. She stretched her limbs, before taking another look at the sleeping fox. His head was bowed, his chin resting on his chest. One of his paws was hanging above his head, while the other was resting alongside his body.

He was beautiful to her, even in his tasteless flashy Hawaiian shirts. His long muzzle hiding sharp fangs, his big paws able to cover her belly or cup her cheeks, his smarts and dark humor, his way of comforting her and supporting her no matter what, his devilishly smug smile, everything in him she found attractive. But right now, without his shirt, the lean muscles in his arms visible, his powerful chest she had slept on rising and falling slowly, his fur flickering like fire under the light coming from the window, he was just gorgeous. Judy reddened at the thought but made no effort to avert her gaze.

She kept staring for a moment, enjoying every inch of his body, engraving the sight in her mind. Sure she had managed to make him remove his shirt, but who knew when it would happen again. Better not let this opportunity go to waste. Her dreamy state was interrupted by a ding coming from her pocket. Reaching for her phone, she saw it was a text from her mobile operator. An ad. Deleting it without reading it, she notice the time: half past four. With a smile, she took a picture of the sleeping fox, then closed the door to the living room behind her. She went inside the kitchen and closed the door too. She had decided she would be the best roomie Nick could ever live with. It was the least she could do to thank him. Opening her texts, she found what she was looking for and started to work on her surprise.

.

Nick's ears twitched. Seconds later, his nose did too. Opening his eyes and regretting it immediately when the sun sent his rays on them, he sat and stretched, yawning widely. Looking around him, it finally dawned on him that he was alone. Anxiety arose within, end the memory of what he had done came in full force.

"Carrots?" he called, but was met with silence. Ears lowering on his skull, he turned towards the door and saw it was closed. Forcing his brain to get rid of the last bits of sleep hanging to it, he focused on his memories. They hadn't closed the door, he was sure of it. Meaning that only Judy could have done it. But why? Opening the door, he saw that the door to the kitchen was also closed. Only this time, he could ear sounds coming from it. Getting closer and putting his ear on the wood, he listened to the music and smiled. Gazelle. Of course it would be Gazelle.

Slowly, very slowly, he grabbed the handle and pressed on it. The door opened just a fraction, enough for the sound to escape freely. He then stopped and released the handle, waiting to see if Judy had heard or noticed him. When nothing happened, he pushed the door open with his muzzle until he could take a look inside. He was not disappointed by what he saw.

There was his bunny, swaying her hips to the rhythm in mesmerizing motions that took his breath away. She was busy cutting carrots, but he saw on the counter that she had already sliced tomatoes, red and green peppers, mushrooms and zucchinis. Butter was already heating in a pan. But what caught his attention was the oven. He couldn't see clearly what was inside, but he knew the smell. A predatory pleasure he had not indulged in in decades.

Amazed at the surprise, he remained there, not caring about his bent back, with only his head peeking out the door. To most, cooking was a chore. To some, a hobby and for a small number, a passion. For years, he had been deprived of this simple pleasure, as there was no kitchen under the bridge. Since he graduated and got this apartment, he began enjoying it more and more, not only for the food he could now eat regularly, but as something new and thus exciting.

But seeing Judy cook in his kitchen awoke new feelings he had never felt before. It didn't take long for him to understand them though. He knew he had been in love for months now, but he saw something in Judy he had never seen in any female before. She was simply mate material. He longed to wake up every morning and come here to prepare breakfast with her, go to work and make the world a better place, then come back and start preparing for their dinner, before ending in their bed. Together, always. He wanted to share everything with her, from dawn to dusk. The memory of her body against his came forth, and he realized just how bad he wanted her to be his for life. After everything that happened thanks to her, there could never be another one.

And when the final realization dawned on him, pain flared. This would never happen. Because he was a fox and she a bunny. Because her family would never accept their relationship. Because the city would be on their tails to put a stop to what they would see as unnatural and wrong. And because deep down he knew what he was lacking: everything. He didn't deserve someone like her.

She was beautiful, smart, joyful, optimist, driven, hardworking, open-minded, caring. She had outperformed anyone at the academy and became the first rabbit officer, proving to the world that she was more than meets the eye. She even managed to fix the city and bring back prey and predators together. Sure, Zootopia was still far from being a true utopia, and some species still had strong prejudices against them, but things had never looked better. More and more companies were opening their doors to species they had always refused or looked down on. Hell, some precincts were even calling to Little Rodentia's precinct for help now. Mice working paws in hooves with elephants! It required someone special, someone far above your average mammal to achieve such a task.

And she had done it. A bunny had turned the whole city upside down for the best, and was looked up by kids everywhere. The mayor, an elderly female snow leopard that had worked at city council for the last fifteen years, even took after Bellwether and turned her into a national hero, placarding her picture everywhere throughout the city. Some posters were stolen and brought back to BunnyBurrow, which now welcomed passengers disembarking from the train with a picture of her and a giant sign stating "Home town of Judy Hopps, first rabbit officer and city hero". Nick still remembered her embarrassed look when her parents had called her on MuzzleTime to show it to her, tears of pride leaking from their eyes. Stu could be heard shouting to everybody around that she was his daughter.

And what could HE brag about? Living on the streets for twenty years, hustling mammals out of their hard-earned money, living in a box under a bridge, barely surviving some of the coldest winters. A few years working for the mafia boss Mr. Big. Disappointing his mother, his only living family, leaving her alone without any news of him, not knowing if he was even alive. No friends except for Finnick, and sometimes he wasn't even sure he could call him that as the fennec fox tended to prefer staying alone most of the time. Sure, things had changed this past year, but none of it was his doing. It was all thanks to her.

And here he was, staring at the back of the most wonderful mammal he had ever met, with hopes and dreams so far out of reach he was hurting himself more than he could take. He was about to give in to his sadness again and make his escape when another thought crossed his mind. Okay, it would never last. Okay, his dream was doomed from the moment he had first let her get to him for good. But that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy the moment. She had accepted to be his roomie for a month. He could- no, He HAD to make the best of it, carve as many memories as possible in his heart, and cherish them until his last breath.

And so he did. For how long he could not tell, he admired her, taking in her every move. Her hips and tail following the songs. Her feet beating the rhythm. Her head bobbing left and right. Her agile paws washing, peeling and slicing the carrots. He was loving it all. Even when she started singing completely out of tune to the pop star's most famous hit Try Everything, he loved it. Because she was happy, and so was he.

Judy had just finished with the carrots when the butter started frying in the pan. Still smiling and nearly dancing, she put the carrots inside the pan and added the peppers. The smell that followed, though simple, brought water to his mouth. She then opened the oven to check what was cooking inside, and seemed satisfied with herself. She closed the oven and went back to her phone.

"Okay, so it should be…." She started, her digit following the lines of what he guessed was a recipe. "Yep, I'm done. Great! Just have to finish cooking the veggies. Well, not really needing a recipe for those ones, do I?" And she giggled at her own joke, a sound that brought inside her unknown admirer another wave of warmth. Turning to the door, she noticed his head and let out a startled yelp, leaning on the counter behind her not to fall.

"NICK! You scared me, dumb fox! How long have you been watching?"

"Hurglb" was all she got as an answer, and she couldn't help but laugh heartily.

"Well, Nick. Congratulations, you've invented a new time scale. The "hurglb". Time to convert it into minutes now." And she laughed even more at the dumbfounded look on the vulpine's face. Coming closer, she waved her paw in front of his eyes.

"Hello? Someone there? Earth calling Nick Wilde, do you copy?" The fox tried to shake his head to come back to reality, but he had forgotten his head was still barely peeking out of the door. With two loud bangs and an even loud "ouch", he took a few steps back and started massaging his muzzle and head, all the while his friend was rolling on the floor, clutching at her stomach.

"Not cool rabbit" he said in a low voice, still feeling the soreness in his jaw. "Not cool." Judy couldn't answer, as she was trying, in vain, to calm down. She laughed for another couple minutes before finally managing to calm a bit.

"Pfiou, thanks Nick. That was a good one." She then got up and looked at him with a grin on the lips.

"So, now that you're back, how long have been ogling my tail?" Finding the perfect opportunity to go back to their usual banter and burry again all his feelings, he let his smugness take over.

"First off, I was not ogling your tail, I was curious about the smell and trying to get a better sniff. Second, it's not my fault if you've been shaking your cute, fuzzy-woozy little tail to my face."

"Don't call me cute!" He had expected the outburst, and had prepared to it.

"Sorry Carrots, but I didn't call YOU cute. I called your tail cute, and as long as it doesn't complain vocally, I don't see the problem." She stared at him and crossed her arms, not convinced by his argument, but unable to come back with anything. Until she was.

"It isn't very fond of long speeches, so it probably won't tell you." Then she smiled at took a step towards him. "But beware, it slaps when it's angry!" Nick's jaw fell and she smiled victoriously. It was becoming easier and easier to get this kind of reaction from him. She then turned her back and slammed the door behind her.

"AND STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN! YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED IN UNTIL DINNER TIME!"

Nick went to sit on the couch, closed his eyes and covered them with his paws. The image of Judy slapping him with his tail was looping in his already fragile mind, and was doing nothing to ease his instincts.

"You're really going to be the death of me, Judy" he whispered to himself, once again alone with his unrealistic expectations.

OoO

Time went by quickly this time. So quickly that when Judy went to get him he felt like he had sit on the couch only a minute ago. In reality, it had been fifteen minutes, the time for the veggies to finish cooking. Following her inside the kitchen, he was greeted with the table already set. The veggie pan was on the table, a wooden spoon ready for service. A bottle of white wine was open and two glasses were already poured. Everything was standing on a perfectly white tablecloth.

"Carrots? What is all this?" Nick was perplexed. All of this shouted of preparations and work, and he didn't feel like he deserved any of this.

"It's just a little thank you meal. Just sit and enjoy." He complied, but he was still lost.

"Thank you meal? For what?" Judy shrugged, turned her back and went to the oven. Using two potholders, she removed the plate from inside and put it on a mat on the table. Nick's eyes open wide. His nose had not betrayed him. Judy had cooked salmon for him. Then more scents tickled him. Lemon, green anise, tarragon, soy sauce and poppy seeds. This was…

"Your mom messaged me her recipe. She said it was your favorite when you were a kid."

Nick was speechless. She had called his mom and got a recipe from his childhood? After what he had done to her, she had agreed to it?

"Nick? Is something wrong?" The fox could hear the anxiety in the bunny's voice and quickly compose himself. After the lengths she had gone to to please him, hurting her was definitely the last thing he wanted to do.

"Sorry, just didn't see it coming. Did you buy all this stuff this morning? How come I didn't see any of it?" Judy's smile was back when she answered.

"Yep! Kept the fish close to the veggies so it would be harder for you to smell it, then hid it behind everything else in the fridge when you were busy storing the rest." She seemed proud of herself, and he couldn't stop the huge smile that crossed his features.

"I don't know what to say, Carrots." It was true. He was still amazed by the sight, smell, and gesture.

"Good, it's impolite to speak while eating. Come on, try it." Nick looked at her, then at the fish, and finally at her plate.

"Hum, Carrots? How about you?"

"I don't eat fish, Nick."

"Not what I meant" he replied, shaking his head. "If the fish is for me, what are you eating? I don't see another dish except for the vegetables."

"That's all I wanted, don't worry. I've cooked enough for the two of us, and maybe a bit too much. I added a lot of carrots by the way." He chuckled and, gentlefox to the end, served her before serving himself. He took a bite at the salmon and stopped. Fish could be rather expensive, so even when he was young it was rare for him to get some. His mother usually cooked it for his birthday or special events. Needless to say, he hadn't bought any in the past two decades. He had forgotten how good it was. No, good was an understatement.

He didn't know if it was the produce itself, the fact that she had taken the time to cook for him, the fact that it was an old family recipe, or all of the above combined, but he could barely believe his taste buds. It was just divine. He took a second bite, and a third. Before long, the entire filet was gone, and he swallowed the last bit with a pleasure moan.

"Oh god, this is delicious. Carrots, I could lock you in here and never let go." The joke had escaped before he could realize it, but fortunately for him she took it as a good sign, if the wide smile adoring her face was any sign.

"Glad you liked it. It's a first for me, as you might have guessed, so I was a bit scared to mess it up."

"Nope, definitely not messed up. Didn't have a meal like that in years" he said, reaching for his glass of wine and taking a sip. He didn't see the sad smile she sent him. She didn't know a lot about his past yet, as he had never accepted to talk about it in details. Hearing him say he hadn't eaten fish in years was only confirming her suspicions. But now wasn't the time to be depressed. Reaching for her own glass, she raised it with a smile.

"A toast to being roomies!"

"A toast to being roomies!" he answered, his actions mirroring hers. They enjoyed the rest of the meal with small talk, finding ideas of things to do in the weeks to come. When they were done, Nick started to clear the table, but Judy stopped him.

"Don't! I told you I was taking care of everything tonight. Just sit and enjoy." The fox was not happy, but a hard glare from her got the desired effect and he let her do, already planning how to make it up to her.

"You know what? Close your eyes." The fox complied, knowing that protesting or asking questions would be pointless. He heard her remove the plates and set clean ones, same for the cutlery. She poured more wine in their glasses, and finally put something on the table. Something that smelled delicious. Another odor if was familiar with.

"All right, you can open them." He did, and under his gaze was a blueberry pie. He found himself at loss for words once again.

"Baked it while you were sleeping. I discretely put in in the oven after removing the fish, so it should be just warm." Pawing him a knife, she motioned towards the pie. "Go on, take a slice." The fox did, but served her first once again. Then they tasted it. It was so excellent he went for seconds, and so did she. After that, they kept talking while she cleared the table. She stopped when she caught the bottle.

"Huh, Nick? Did we really down the whole bottle?" Nick looked at her, then smiled deviously. A sight the bunny didn't like. "Nick? Why are you looking at me like this?

"What is it, Carrots? Afraid I might let the alcohol get rid of my inhibitions?" His voice was dripping with sauciness, and he wiggled his eyebrows to add an effect. And seeing the red coloring the entirety of her face and ears, he knew it had worked like a charm.

"Wh-What? No! Of course no! Why would I be afraid of that?" She didn't seem to understand how that could be interpreted. Nick took it on himself to enlighten her with another devious smile.

"Not afraid that I lose my inhibitions? Well, I didn't think you'd be so forward. Naughty Carrots!" Realizing her mistake, the bunny began waving her paw frantically in front of her.

"WHAT! NO! No, I didn't mean it like this. I said I was not afraid of you losing control, because I know you wouldn't." But then Nick stood up and walked towards her with a hungry gaze. "You wouldn't," she asked in a timid voice. "Would you?"

Nick leaned forwards until he was only inches from her retreating form, then licked his chops slowly and noisily. Then with another smile he leaned a bit more until his muzzle was just above her ear and whispered.

"Of course I wouldn't". And with that he was gone, leaving behind a trembling bunny. Her heart was jackhammering in her chest, and her breath ragged and painful in her lungs. When she had seen the hunger in his eyes and his tongue slowly wash over his fangs, she had thought he really was going to pounce on her. But what frightened her the most, and led to her heart about to break its cage, was how disappointed she had felt when he had turned his back. Her legs failed her and she slumped on her rump, the back on the cupboard, trying to get control on her raging hormones.

Meanwhile, Nick was doing the exact same thing on the couch.

"Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" He kept repeating the word in his head. The day was just perfect. A good laugh, a nap with his love in his arms, a delicious meal in the best company he could ever get and want, and he had to throw everything down the drain with his stupidity. Okay it wasn't the first time they had flirted, but never this much, and he knew alcohol had played no part in it. For a moment, he had let his instincts take control, and nearly pounced on her. Only when he saw her nose twitch did he realize how much he was scaring her and how stupid he was being. So he had backed down as quickly as he could, but the wrong was done.

The image of the press conference came back to haunt him. She had the same tells of fear, except this time she was alone in the room, had her back to the counter and no fox repellent to protect herself. Worse, he had had a reason back then, or at least kind of. Seeing all the predators muzzled had brought back dark memories and her words had hurt him a lot, so he had let anger take control. But here, in his home and after the meal she had taken hours to cook for him, he had nothing to justify his behavior. He had gone too far, and it was too late to have regrets.

The two mammals remained in their respective room for some time, none daring to face the other for the time being. After some time, Judy began clearing the table to focus her thoughts on something simple. She put all she could in the dishwasher, except for the glasses which were too fragile. Hearing a knock on the door made her jump and nearly let them go.

"Hey Carrots. Stop that, please? You've done so much already, I just can't let you do everything. How about you relax a bit on the couch?" The whole time he had been staring at everything but her. The table, the glasses she was holding, the sink, all but her eyes. Not ready to stay in the same room as him for now, she nodded and exited the kitchen. Nick let her pass and tried not to touch her. He then began cleaning his kitchen to focus his thoughts. He started by putting the rest of the vegetables in the fridge, then washed the pan and the glasses. After, he cleaned the tablecloth, though it had remained as white as it was at the beginning of their meal. Then he set up the dishwasher and started it. It would work during the night so that it would be finished in the morning.

And then he realized he had no choice but to join her in the living room, for what would surely be the last time he saw her before a whole month. Taking a deep breath, he embraced his fate and walked, head bowed, to sit beside her. Judy was sitting with her legs curled up to her chest, her arms surrounding them, and her head resting on her forearms. She didn't say a word, nor did she look at him when he sit. They stayed in silence for some time, until the bunny spoke.

"What you did back there…"

"Was totally stupid, I know. I'm sorry." Nick cut her to it.

"Yes, yes it was." Another silence followed her statement, before it got on her nerves again.

"Why did you do that?" He snorted.

"Hell if I know." Then he went on, but with a much lower voice. "I wanted to tease you a bit, you know, like we do on our shifts, except that this time…I-I… I don't know what happened. I didn't think it through. Usually I try to think of what to say and how to say it so that you know I'm joking, but there, I couldn't. I acted before, though I don't understand why. I could blame it on the alcohol, but that would be a pitiful excuse." He paused for a bit and then brought his knees to his chest and covered his head in his arms. "I'm so sorry."

Judy heard the first sobs and her ears drooped. She reached out to put her paw on his arm.

"Nick, it's okay. I wasn't expecting you to remain so serious, that's all. I got better at reading you, that's how I can surprise you, but this time I must say you outplayed me." But the fox was still hiding in his arms, shame keeping his head down.

"Nick, I'm not mad, it's okay. Let's just agree that it was a bad joke and be done with it. What you say?" She could feel him shake more and he finally lost it, crying and weeping.

"Oooohhh Nick." Judy went closer and put her head on his shoulder. "Please, don't. Bad jokes happen. No need to dwell on it." He mumbled something, but she couldn't understand what.

"What was it?" No answer. "Nick please, talk to me." Another silence, and he mumbled again. This time though, she heard the words.

"I broke my promise." Judy thought about it, but couldn't come up with anything.

"A promise? What promise, Nick?" He sniffed and took a few breaths before answering, still hidden in his arms.

"I promised that I would never do it again, and I broke it in only a year." She gave it more thoughts, and then it dawned on her. The day following Bellwether's arrest, Judy had given another press conference to apologize to all predators in Zootopia. Some protesters insulted her, and a journalist, a tigress, had asked if she was going to resign for tearing the city apart with her mistake. She had broken into tears, and was about to say yes when Bogo had stepped in.

"Do you remember your last grave mistake, miss?" The tigress had frowned, and said nothing. "Okay, my officer made a mistake. But she nearly died trying to make up for it. Can you say you did the same once in your life, miss?" All journalists had turned to the tigress who was now frozen in shock. But Bogo wasn't done. "Officer Hopps will keep her job, because without her we would still be looking for dozens of missing mammals, Bellwether would still be targeting random predators, and maybe you would have attacked your own kid when taking him to the park." This last sentence had shaken the journalist to the core, and she had left the conference running.

After that, all predators present had felt bad for their behavior. Not that they had forgiven the bunny so easily, but they had at least the strength to apologize. Later that evening, Nick had also apologized for his outburst, and promised he would never do anything to scare her ever again.

"Oh Nick. I told you, you just surprised me is all. You didn't break your promise. I swear." But it didn't work.

"No need to lie, Judy." This simple sentence was like a knife in the bunny's heart. He had used her first name. Nick never used it unless he was being extremely serious. And with the sobs still agitating his body, she understood how down he was feeling because she had been a dumb emotional bunny and let what she knew was just a jibe take out of scale proportions. She had to make him see how much he meant for her, and how what happened was nothing.

"You know," she began, "when the chief announced the curfew and the containment measures, I was really scared. You know how impatient and impulsive I can get, so staying locked in my small apartment with nothing to do, I-I-I thought I was going to get crazy." She paused and took a deep breath. "But then, you offered me to come here, so that I wouldn't be alone. I don't think you realize how much it means to me, Nick. I can't thank you enough for your kindness, especially after what I've done to you last year…"

Hearing the despair in her voice, he raised his head and noticed that she was sitting in the exact same way as he was, knees on her chest, looking in front of her at nothing in particular.

"I never told it to anyone", she went on, "not even my parents, but even in BunnyBurrow it was hard for me. Not the guilt gnawing at my guts, I'd deserved it, but even bunnies in town looked down on me. Wherever I would go, I could hear things like "she's the one who broke the perfect city" or "we already knew she was right, why is she sad, she just opened their eyes". I had become a mix between a heartless freak and a misunderstood hero. I don't know which one was worse." She wiped at her eyes before resuming her story.

"When I finally understood what was happening, I made the trip back to right my mistake, and I knew I needed you, but I was so scared that I kept wondering what I could say to you. I had even prepared a little speech to convince you. And when I finally found you and you started walking away, I lost it. I meant everything I said, especially the last part. But you forgave me. You opened your arms and hugged me, though I clearly didn't deserve it. And then you saved my life in the museum. Even when I insisted you put the city before me, you refused and stayed. Three months after I betrayed you, you risked your life for me." It was her turn to start crying and to hide her face.

"All that after saving my job and my dream. I don't deserve someone like you. I've never, and probably never will."

This was too much for Nick. This last sentence belonged to him. How could she dare say things like this? So he got up, before kneeling in front of her and taking her paws in his.

"Deserve someone like me? Of course you don't deserve someone like me. You deserve a million times better." Judy raised her head, meeting his eyes for the first time since their little heated moment earlier.

"Judy, you're one of the best mammal this city has ever known. You've got a heart of gold and see the good in everyone, you're hardworking and driven, and have tried to make the world a better place since you were a kit. How many seven-year-olds have that kind of dreams? You even left your home town and your family to reach that dream, a dream that is selfless and mammal-oriented. This required a strength few possess." Judy smiled timidly at the compliments, but Nick was far from done.

"If one of us doesn't deserve the other, it's me. While you worked hard to achieve your goal and help the world, I spent years hustling mammals out of their cash. Since I ran from home when I was twelve, I was the very cancer you wanted to eradicate. I begged for money and food, and when I understood no one would help a fox, even a kid, I started stealing. From shops, from pockets, from adults and kids alike, everywhere I could. And I did it for me. Because I wanted to live, without second thoughts for the mammals I was hurting. For twenty years I was nothing but a burden to this city. And worse, when I could finally help someone who really needed it, like Mr. Otterton, I refused." He bowed his head, remembering all too well his behavior.

"I got jealous to see a bunny succeed and become a cop while I was struggling day after day, so I did my best to stomp on your dreams. I lashed out on you for no reason but pure selfishness. But even after I tried again and again to see you fail, you stayed by my side. You tried to make me change, you tried to see the good in me and make me help someone in need. You trusted me and followed me, putting yourself in danger. You saved my life several times, more than I saved yours, and when this was finally over, you offered me a new life. A job I can be proud of, a roof above my head, friends, you gave me back my self-esteem and help me earn respect from others. You even made me see my mother again after twenty years, something I had given up on long ago." He squeezed her paw, and looked straight in her eyes.

"Can't you see? All I am now is only because of you. Without you, I would still be a nobody, a shifty lowlife without the guts to try and be anything else than a popsicle hustler, living in a box under a bridge, barely surviving day by day, hoping that the winter wouldn't be too hard so that I would not freeze to death at night. You gave me a thousand times more than I deserved, and I could never ever hope to repay you for this. I don't deserve you Judy, not the other way around."

Judy was crying. She had suspicions on Nick's past life, but hearing it first paw, it was nearly too much for her. She got up and hugged him close, nuzzling his cheek.

"Oh Nick. I'm so sorry. I didn't know any of that. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And she wept in his arms again and again. The fox was trying to soothe her, but his words were useless, so he just kept her close and waited for her to calm down. It happened eventually, and he managed to let her go slowly. She was still sobbing, but managed to smile at him.

"Sorry, I think I've ruined your shirt." The fox let out a small laugh, glad that she was fine enough to joke.

"Don't worry Carrots, nothing the washing machine can't get rid of." He then cupped her cheeks and gently wiped the tears out with his thumb. She closed her eyes and leaned in his paws, so he remained like this until she let go and sit on the couch. Nick got up and got an idea.

"Want some tea? I think I could do with a hot beverage right now."

"Oh yes, please." With a smile he nodded and went inside the kitchen to prepare some tea. Judy watched him leave, and her smile vanished. Her friend did live under the bridge she had found him under. On seeing the box, his little speech of their first meeting had come back, but she had decided to set it aside for the time being. She had other problems after all. The thing is, she had never managed to make him open like this before. All her tries had been met with sarcastic jokes that derailed the conversation expertly. She promised to herself that she would do everything she could so that he would never go back to his previous life.

.

Nick went back after a few minutes, a cup of tea in each paw. He gave one to Judy before sitting with his. They took a few sips in silence, the words they had spoken echoing in their heads. As always, it was Judy who could not stand the silence. She still needed some answers.

"Nick?"

"Yes Carrots?"

"There are still things I'd like to know, if you're okay with it." The fox sighed, but he knew it was coming. She had already tried to know him more, more or less subtly, but he had always managed to avoid the topic. He had always feared what her reaction would be if she were to know the truth.

"Shoot." Hearing his voice, Judy hesitated and put her cup on the floor. Note to self, she thought. Make Nick buy a coffee table.

"You don't have to, you know. I'm glad you shared all of this with me, even in this conditions." Nick put his own cup down next to her and turned to face her.

"It's okay Carrots. You've earned it. Just ask anything and I'll tell you." Judy smiled as the words warmed her, a welcome sensation after the emotional rollercoaster they both had been through in the past minutes.

"When I hustled you into helping me, you said you were earning two hundred bucks a day."

"A lie, obviously." Nick cut her short, understanding well what she wanted to ask. "I told you, I was jealous the second I saw you, so I just had to brag and make me look like I was living the life." She nodded to herself, but wasn't satisfied.

"Then why didn't you take it back when I threatened you with jail? You could have said it was a lie, the pen would have recorded it, and I would have been powerless. You thought about it, right?" Nick sighed.

"Of course I did. But once again, I was jealous and not ready to let you win. It was only my pride and my ego that prevented me from telling the truth, or even a half-truth. That's how low I had fallen before meeting you." Judy winced at the self-inflicted insult, but it gave her the opportunity she wanted.

"When you talk about falling low, do you mean… working for Mr. Big?" She expected him to flee the question, but to her surprise he answered straight.

"I do." He paused, his gaze fixed on the ground but lost in memories. She decided not to push him and just waited for him to resume, which he did after a moment.

"I was sixteen. The winter was the harshest I had to face since hitting the streets, and several times I thought I wouldn't see another spring. I got so desperate that I went hit-or-miss. That day, I saw one of Big's limo in the streets. I didn't know him of course, but I immediately understood that those guys were loaded. I followed them and reached his manor. I got back to Finnick, gathered a few tools, and that night, I burglarized his house. I wasn't a real burglar, so I would never have been able to crack his safe open, and I wasn't a real criminal either, so going for paintings and black market was out of the question. So I mainly stole silverware, so that I could melt them into bars and sell them as raw material. I was about to get out when the light of the room I was in was switched on."

He paused and a small smile formed on his lips.

"There, on the doorstep, was Gran Mama. She was so small, but still seemed at ease. She looked at me with a smile and simply "tsst" me. She told me to put my bag on the floor, because outside the window was a polar bear, ready to grab me. I don't know why, but I believed her, so I obeyed. She took me to Mr. Big. I ended in front of the very same desk we were brought that night, remember?"

A shiver went down Judy's spine. Of course she remembered. She had tried to act tough and all, but her impulsiveness had nearly killed them both. Seeing her unease, Nick quickly went on.

"So here I am, facing two shrews and surrounded by enormous polar bears, and still all I was feeling was anger. I should have been afraid, but my ego wouldn't let go. I had been caught by an elderly shrew, and I was pissed. When he asked me what I was doing in his home, I answered boldly that I was there to rob him blind, and that he could be glad that his mother was more useful that the bunch of fat polar idiots surrounding us. Of course none of the bears appreciated the insult, but Gran Mama laughed. It surprised us all, but she then waved at one of the bears. Go to the kitchen and get him some snacks, she said. And once again, I was stupid enough to let my ego speak.

I yelled at her, saying that I didn't need her pity, and that she could keep her snacks for a charity if she wanted to feign caring. She seemed angry, and waved at me to come closer. I did, and when I was towering above her, she motioned me to bend. I did, and once I was close enough, she slapped me." Judy let out a laugh at that, her brain coming up with the image of the tiny shrew giving the fox a motherly punishment.

"I knew you would like this one. For such a small creature, she packed quite a slap, let me tell you. No wonder Big has grown to be so tough." This got another round of welcome laughter to the bunny.

"Sorry," she said with an apologetic smile, "please, go on."

"Anyway, this left me speechless. But she wasn't. Oh god, no. She told me that I would take the snacks, eat them, and not utter another word. That playing burglar was bad enough and that I shouldn't add impoliteness to that. That no one should ever refuse a snack from a mother or grandmother, no matter the circumstances. Even Big had taken a few steps back, staying out of reach of his own mother. The bear went back with chocolate bars and I refused them, still trying to act tough, but I think she had seen through the act from the beginning.

She told me that at least I had one obvious quality, that I was ready to spend a night empty-bellied rather than ask for alms. That even if I couldn't see it, I was ready to work hard to deserve what I would get, even if in my case working meant stealing. She said the snacks were a reward for entering in there house, and nearly escaping without any of the guards noticing it. I don't know why, but I believed her again, so I ate some bars, and god was I glad to have something to eat, candies no less. I couldn't really afford three meals a day at that time to be honest." He paused and took a quick look at her, but somehow she had taken her cup back and was looking at the liquid inside. Only her twitching ears showed that she was listening to him intently.

"That's when she turned to her son and asked if he could find me little jobs. I was about to protest but she raised a paw and it was enough for me to shut my mouth. Big wasn't happy, but he couldn't deny that none of his bears had heard me. So he accepted. The following day, I was sent to track someone. I don't know who he was nor why I was doing it, but I did. I found his address, came back with the info and gave it to the shrew. He told me to go and come back the following day in the evening, so I did. I had given them a correct intel, so they fed me. A complete meal, with vegetables, bugs, even a slice of chocolate pie for dessert. My reward for my work.

For the next four years, I worked for him, using my natural stealth abilities as a fox to succeed where the bears couldn't. Mostly, I spied on mammals and was a courier. One very cold winter day, Gran Mama offered me to stay for the night. She immediately insisted that it was just an offer and not an act of pity, but I would have accepted anyway. I had grown fond of the old shrew, and I owed her a lot. I had not eaten with them that evening, just came back to report on another mission, and she knew somehow that I hadn't eaten a lot. That's when she made me the cannoli."

"Wow, she must have gotten a liking to you too, didn't she?" Judy asked.

"Dunno. Maybe that, or she was just letting her motherly instincts talk. I never dared to ask." Then his face darkened, his head lowered, and she heard a scratch. Taking a quick look, she saw that he had buried his claws in his couch. Whatever was coming next couldn't be good.

"One week later, she caught a bad cold that developed into something ugly, and she was gone before the end of the winter. I felt like I was losing a mother again, and I got mad. Yelled at the bears for not getting a doctor sooner, or a better one. Yelled at Big for not taking care of his mother and being a bad son, stupid things like this. I was letting sadness take control. Big didn't like it, and he was in worth state that I was. He had witnessed his mother wither in his home day after day, and was powerless to save her. He kicked me out that day, and I didn't hear from him for two whole days. Then one of the bear found me and gave me a new mission. Something to make up for my childish behavior, something to earn Big's pardon. You can guess what happened."

Judy lowered her head, and when she answered her voice was but a murmur.

"He asked you to buy a rug. You let your ego win and brought him the skunk-butt rug, claiming it was wool and had cost you quite a sum. To you, it was an act of rebellion, of independence. Am I right?" The fox sighed, but nodded.

"Yes. Yes you are. Guess I was still young and stupid. I was proud of myself for tricking a mob boss, but when I learnt what the rug was for… I've never felt so bad in my life. I believe he knew that, and that's why he didn't send the bears to make me pay. They had found me once, I knew they could find me wherever I would hide."

"That's why you looked so down in his office. You still regret your choice, don't you?" His ears fell on his head, an obvious tell. But once again, he chose to be frank with her.

"Of course I do. The first weeks, I had nightmares of her soul being rejected from paradise because of the smell that was sticking to her fur, and it was driving me crazy. The nightmares are long gone now, but I still feel sorry for her. She never judged me, not once in four years, and this is how I repaid her kindness." The tears were flowing freely on his cheeks, and Judy felt bad for bringing the dark memories.

"Oh, Nick." She put the cup down, and got her arms around him. He let her rock him tenderly, and didn't protest when she laid him on her, his head resting in her lap, her paws caressing his cheeks.

"You didn't know and you've regretted it for years. I'm sure she has forgiven you long ago, and so should you." The fox didn't answer. For years he had played the tough fox, true to his motto to never let anyone get to him. Yet, after a year with Judy, all his defenses and mental barriers were crumbling one by one, leaving his soul bare to her eyes. And what was strange was that he wasn't feeling weak or shameful. He felt safe in her arms, safer than anytime in those past two decades. He trusted her not to repeat to anyone, not even to his mother.

It seemed like Judy could read his mind, as her next question rubbed salt in his wounds.

"Your mother doesn't know anything, does she?" His silence was all she needed to hear.

"When you went to see her, what did you talk about?"

"I asked her a lot of questions and avoided all of hers, except about the academy and the past year. It was already hard for the both of us, so I felt it was best not to let her know of my misery or my shady activities. I've hurt and disappointed her enough for the rest of her life."

"Nick, she's your mother. She can hear everything, you know?" Nick tried to shrug, though in his position it wasn't really easy, so he settled for sighing.

"I don't want her to know. Running away was already a blow, I don't want to have her worry and think any of this was her fault. These were my choices, but I know she feels guilty for what happened. She told me she thought I ran because of her. I had a hard time convincing her otherwise."

"You never told me why you ran in the first place." Nick smiled.

"Taking advantage of a nervous breakdown, Carrots? Not really fair." Judy stopped caressing him for a second or two.

"Sorry. I'm getting greedy, aren't I?" Nick sighed, but made no sign he wanted to move or stop the conversation.

"I heard her cry one night. I was eleven. I was supposed to be sleeping, but I was thirsty and was on my way to the kitchen to get a glass of water. She was sitting at the table and crying. I spied a bit on her, and saw her hide pieces of paper inside a drawer. The next day, I took a look. They were bills, and she wasn't able to pay for them all. It was my fault. She had to feed me, dress me, buy me books for school, toys and stuff so that I could be happy. I was a burden to her. On my twelfth birthday, she bought me a brand new bike and a blueberry pie. I knew how much it had cost, and I knew she couldn't afford to. But she did it anyway, because she wanted me to be happy. And I realized that I wanted her to be happy too, but that it was impossible as long as I was living with her. So I sold the bike and ran away with the money."

Judy was speechless. She really didn't know anything about her partner.

"Did she believe you?" she asked in a shaking voice.

"Not at first, no. Not until I told her where she was hiding the bills and how much each of them were at the time, then how much she was paying for my food each month and the price of some gifts such as the bike. I told her that at the age of eleven, I was old enough to make additions and compare the numbers, and add two and two together."

"How did she react?"

"She slapped me. Must have a face that shouts slap when stupid because now that I think of it, it happened quite regularly." Judy giggled at the joke, and the sound brought a smile to Nick's face, though it didn't last long.

"Then she cried. A lot. She apologized for being a bad mother, for not being able to provide for me, for forcing me to run away, and on and on. Then I cried. I apologized for being a bad son, for running away without a word, for never contacting her, and on and on. When we were both too tired to cry, she asked me to leave, that she needed some time alone. I gave her my phone number and left."

"And she called you a few days later right? I remember how excited and terrified you were that day. I felt bad for that wolf that tried to attack you. You know he could have pressed charges for police brutality with what you did to him?"

"Hum, I maaayyyyyy have taken my frustration out on him. But I'm pretty sure he was too scared to complain in the end." Judy smiled.

"And now, things are looking bright, right?"

"Once again, I owe it all to you Carrots."

"Nice try, Slick." Nick chuckled and sighed.

"I know what you're thinking, but I'm still convinced that telling her would only make things worse. I'm not letting go of this chance."

"Nick, she's your mother. If she called you, it's because she cares about you, and always will. You did what you did to survive, and in the end you never fell too low. The worse you've done is stealing, and I'm sure she can forgive you for that." She felt Nick stiffen. He began to tremble, and new tears formed in the corner of his eye. Taking a deep breath, he managed to speak his question out loud, though she heard it was a huge effort.

"Would you?" She froze. And finally, after everything she had learnt that evening, the pieces of the puzzle clicked. She put a paw under his head and gently pushed him out of her lap. She heard the whine that escaped him when he obeyed, and when he sit he was averting her gaze.

"Nick, look at me." Her voice was firm and left no room for objections. So the fox turned his head towards her, looking totally desperate, ears low and eyes dull with sadness. He couldn't hold fix his eyes on her for more than a second before averting his gaze again. She put both paws on his cheeks and forced him to look at her.

"Nick, you will look at me now. Have I been clear?" The fox nodded, and she saw that she was wrong. It was not sadness that was dulling his usually bright emeralds. It was resignation.

"Nick, is that why you've been keeping everything to yourself? Did you think that if I knew I would be mad at you, hate you, and reject you ?" And with the question spoken out loud, she saw in his eyes that she had guessed right. His final barrier was shattered to pieces and he nodded vigorously, not even trying to hold anything back. His greatest fear had been exposed and he had nothing else to hide anymore. Judy saw the despair seize him. He had given up before she could even give her answer. Words were meaningless now. So instead, she brought his head to her chest and hugged him close.

"Oh, my dumb fox."

But Nick was too lost to hear her. For twenty years he had bottled up his fears, frustrations and pain. For twenty years he had kept everything to him, at first because he had no one to talk to, then because shame gripped his heart and never let go since. And now Judy had opened the bottle, releasing everything, too much for him to handle. She had broken her fox and felt bad for it. So she increased her grip on him, and let him cry and shout, freeing himself. She remained there for long minutes, making sure she never let go, even when she felt him move, trying from times to times to whisper soothing words in his ears.

Eventually, Nick was too weak to even cry. He tried to raise, but Judy didn't let go. He tried to protest, but his voice was so frail he could have been mistaken for a newborn. And even if he had enough strength to get angry, she wouldn't have let go. After a futile attempt at resisting, he gave up and tried to lie down on the couch. She helped him, but made sure never to break contact. His head was back in her lap. She leaned and placed a soft kiss on his muzzle. Then she spoke softly.

"I'm here Nick, and I'm not going anywhere. I promise."

And she kept caressing his cheek, ear and forehead long after he had fallen asleep from exhaustion.

OoO

The duo woke up with the first lights of dawn, Nick lying down, his head still in Judy's lap. He was the first to open his eyes, and his yawn and movement woke the bunny up. It took him a couple minutes to take his surroundings in, and to reminisce his breakdown of the previous evening. He looked at his friend and saw the rabbit smiling at him.

"Morning, roomie" she said, rubbing her eyes.

"Morning Carrots." Judy immediately saw that something was off with him, but her still sleepy brain had difficulties understanding what. It gave the vulpine the time to make his escape in the bathroom and lock the door. Judy remained there, still groggy from sleep, trying to focus, but to no avail.

"Huuuuugggghhhh, Judy needs coffee." Groaning like a cavemammal, she went to the kitchen, jumping on the counter to reach the cups in the upper cupboard, and the coffee grains. Nick had a real espresso machine, but didn't use it often. It was a bit noisy and more importantly, required a heating time and a preparation time too long to his liking in the morning. So most of the time he used instant coffee. Bur they were stuck at home with plenty of time, so she felt like a real good coffee was a nice treat to start the day. Home. The word echoed in her mind, making her smile. Then the fog was lifted from her mind and she remembered the events of the previous night. And why Nick had ran. And she sighed.

"Come on, hiding in the bathroom? I swear I'm gonna kick his butt if he doesn't grow up." But she couldn't just yell at him first thing in the morning. So she took it on herself to make breakfast. If she was right, she wouldn't see any red fur for a long time. Opening the fridge, she took milk, eggs and butter, then rummaged through the cupboard until she found sugar and flour. She began preparing pancakes while the coffee machine was still working.

Half an hour later, she had piled two columns of four pancakes in two plates, and the coffee was hot and ready. Setting the table, she smiled at the result. She had already thought of leaving the shoe-box and find a real apartment, but had never taken the time to visit some. Now that she had a kitchen at her disposal, it was all the more appealing, and with time to spare she decided she would take a serious look at estate agencies websites. But that would wait a bit, as right now, she had a dumb fox to talk to.

She tiptoed her way to the bathroom door and put her ear on the door. She heard nothing. No running water, no fur dryer, not a sound. He really was just hiding in there.

"Slick, breakfast's ready!" She heard him gasp, surely surprised to hear her voice so close.

"Th-thanks Carrots, but I'm not really hungry yet." And of course, speaking of food was what his stomach was waiting to make itself heard, a loud gurgle that none of them could miss.

"You sure Slick? Looks like the tiger disagrees with you." Nick gulped.

"No! It's… hum, just too much dessert yesterday, it still weighs on my stomach and it doesn't like that. Yeah, just a bit off-balance, that's all. Don't worry." But Judy wasn't dupe. Nor was she patient.

"Nick, we can do this two ways. You can open this door and talk to me, or I can break it down, kick your butt so hard you won't be able to sit for a whole week, and you'll still end up talking to me in the end. I'll be in the kitchen." And she left, this time not making any effort to silence her steps.

Nick was sitting on the edge of his bathtub, taking deep breaths. He knew he was acting childishly, but he could not face her. Not after what had happened. How could he? He was completely defenseless in front of her. He was used to getting the upper paw, no matter the topic or the situation. Not that he really did have a choice growing up, but it had become a part of him, something so deeply rooted in his core he no longer could do without. And yet, when he was with her, it was pointless. She could see through his mask and get to him effortlessly. And if he was honest with itself, it frightened him.

He needed advice. And he knew that only one mammal could listen to him and be honest, even if it was going to be ugly. Reaching for his phone, he scrolled through the contacts to the letter F, and dialed Finnick's number. After four rings, a low and angry growl was heard.

"You better have a good reason for calling this early, boy."

"Sorry Fin, I know it's early but I could really use an ear right now." Fin groaned, trying to see if there was a jibe behind Nick's words. But then again, he knew Nick would wake him up just for a stupid pun. He could be stupid and annoying at times, but not suicidal.

"A'right. What'd you do to bunny girl?" Nick froze for some time.

"How-what? I didn't say-"

"Cut the bull Nick. You've been head over tails for her since that stupid otter chase. Man, you even joined the fuzz, for fuck's sake! So if anything got you down, there's no way it ain't her. What'd you do?"

"And what makes you so sure I'm the one who did something?"

"You're stupid and she ain't. Well, except for hanging with ya. What'd you do?" Nick sighed. Sometimes he wished Finnick didn't know him so well.

"I told her."

"Told what?"

"Everything."

"Grrrr. I ain't got time for ya bull, Nick. Spit it or I'm out to sleep."

"I just told you Fin. Everything. All twenty years. All Nick." There was a silence on the line.

"Like everything everything?"

"Yep."

"You running out?"

"Yep."

"You stealing?

"Yep."

"You being Big's goon?"

"Yep, and you can stop now, I think we both get it." But Finnick was done with his questions.

"You cried?" Nick sighed, but there was no point in hiding it. He had called for help after all.

"Yep."

"You wept?"

"Yep."

"You peed yourself?"

"Fin…"

"Worth a shot. So what she said?"

"She… well, huuuuuuummmmmm"

"What, you don't remember?" Nick felt bad, as he really couldn't remember a lot, except him losing it for good. His lack of a clear answer was enough for the fennec.

"Geez, fox, don't tell me you fell asleep on her?" Once again, he got no answer.

"Oh boy! I can't believe I'm hearing this. Where's she?"

"In the kitchen making breakfast."

"And you?"

"…"

"Fox, if you tell me you hiding in the bathroom I'm hanging up."

"…"

"Oh Christ. Now I get why you called. Coward ain't like you, boy!"

"And what am I supposed to say, Fin?" Nick shouted to the phone. Fearing Judy might hear him, he lowered his voice again.

"What am I supposed to do? I can't just walk in there, say hi and do like nothing happened. She knows what I've done. What I am."

"And she's still there, stupid!" Finnick's angry answer took him by surprise. Most of the time, Fin growled and scowled as a defense mechanism to make up for his height, but now he really sounded pissed.

"She had all night to leave but she didn't! What else you need?"

"I-I-" But the words just didn't come. What could he say to that?

"Hear me fox! You'll never get better than her, and you know it! So grow a fucking spine and go to her!"

"I can't do it Fin. I can't face her. I don't deserve her. I have nothing to offer, nothing to make up for what she gave me."

"And so what? You think crying in your bathroom like a puss will change this?"

"…"

"You think staying the same faggot will make you worthy?

"…"

"You think spiting on your friendship will do you good?" That got Nick angry.

"I'm not-"

"You are if you give up, fox! She got you out of your shitty life, and you're not doing anything to thank her 'cept for crying like a pussy. Hell you don't deserve her with that attitude!"

Nick was speechless. Sure he knew Finnick wouldn't go easy on him, but he wasn't expecting him to actually make sense. That much sense anyway.

"I won't repeat it Nick, you'll never get better. You got a chance, which is more than a lot of us can say, so grab it and never fucking let go!" Nick thought about the fennec's words, and knew he was right. If he wanted to be worthy of her once in his life, he'll need to work for it. Not for himself, but for her. She had earned it. She deserved his best.

"I didn't know you had a soft spot, Fin. Missing your pacifier that much?"

"Yeah right, like you've got the right to mock me, puss in shirt. We'll talk again when you grow a pair. Tchao!" And with that Finnick hang up. Nick couldn't help but smile. How could he doubt Fin's friendship? Under his grumpy exterior the fennec was deeply loyal and trustworthy. And he was right. It was time to face his past, to grow a spine and face her. Even if she had stayed to tell him eye to eye never to talk to her again, he owed it to her. Taking a deep breath, he got up and unlocked the door.

.

In the kitchen, Judy was waiting. She had finished her coffee, not wanting to drink it cold, but her pancakes had been left untouched. She wanted to have breakfast with Nick. A real breakfast, face to face with her friend. The day before they barely ate, too focused on going shopping and making sure they would be ready for the containment. For months now, she'd been craving crashing here after movie night and having breakfast with him in the morning. It was a simple pleasure, but to the doe it meant a lot. It was a taste of everything she wanted and hoped for. A simple, normal life. Wake up not alone, have breakfast, go to work, come back home with someone to welcome you, eat, relax, and go to sleep in your other half's arms. Nothing fancy.

Growing up, she had found the idea boring. Not that she disapproved those who wanted it, like her parents or many of her siblings, but it just wasn't for her. Becoming a cop and going to the biggest city in the world had always been her dream, and relationships were nothing but burdens and obstacles. But the past year had eroded her convictions. Or more precisely, a sly red-furred fox had. Now, she was looking forward to meeting him every morning, and a bit sad when their shift was over and they had to get home. The few weekends where she couldn't see him at all were always sad ones, and the Monday morning the best moment of the week, because she got to see him again.

The first time she had crashed on his couch, she had woken up with the smell of pancakes and fresh coffee. Nick was already dressed up and groomed, though she could see in his eyes that he was still tired. And when he had told her he had put an alarm on his phone to surprise her, she had fallen for good. Nobody's ever been so nice, caring and supportive with her. Now, she was secretly hoping this could become her daily life. So when she heard the door of the bathroom unlock, anxiety gripped her. She had one last suspicion and she would get to the truth, whatever it might be.

Nick came in, smiling timidly.

"Hey Carrots."

"Hey Slick" she replied, trying to smile despite the obvious tension in the room.

"Judy, I-"/ "Nick, I-" they both started, before looking at each other and chuckling.

"I'll go first" Judy said, and Nick nodded. "I made breakfast, and I know you're hungry. So how about we take care of it first?" Nick smiled and nodded again, still too nervous to talk. His coffee was cold so he put it in the microwave oven, while Judy heated the pancakes in the pan. When they were done, they ate in silence, except for Nick complimenting Judy on her cooking. Then Nick cleared the table while Judy washed the pan. The dishwasher could wait. The two friends then went to the living room and sit on the couch. This time, Nick spoke first.

"My turn. Please." Judy saw the seriousness in his eyes, and though she really wanted to stop him and reassure him, she accepted his request. He fox sighed, took a deep breath, and started.

"Judy, about what happened yesterday, I'm not sorry." Her ears stood straight above her head. That wasn't exactly what she was expecting.

"Besides Finnick, and only because he and I have lived the same life for years, you're the only mammal who knows me. Not the smug fox who brags a lot and gets on everybody's nerves, but the real me. The lost, pitiful and worthless fox who never did anything with his life." Judy was about to interrupt, but he raised his paw and stopped her.

"Please, don't." She clearly wasn't happy, but let him speak. "I know what I am. I know who I am. I can't deny it, and I won't hide it anymore. You know everything, and I'm glad you do. I don't care what you decide to do with it, but with everything you've done for me you deserved to know. I don't regret telling you. What I regret is taking so long to be honest with you. I should have trusted you sooner. Much sooner. And I promise that, I'll do everything I can to make it up to you. I'll work, I'll crawl, I'll dug in the dirt, I'll protect you with my body and my life if it comes to this, but I'll do whatever it takes. That's what your friendship means to me Judy. That is, if you still want someone like me as your partner and friend."

Judy was speechless. This was definitely not what she had expected. It was far better. Only one of his words was leaving a foul taste in her mouth. But he had stopped talking and was looking straight at her. He had told the truth, she could see it in his gaze. He was not hiding anything. His hopes and fears were laid bare for her to see, but there was something else. Something deeper, something that made her heart jump in her chest. Something she had dreamt to see for months.

"Nick, I understand now why you've been so afraid to talk to me, and of course I forgive you. I could never hate you." Then she crawled on his lap and took his head in her paws, scratching behind his ears. "Why do you think I'm still here, even now that I know?" Nick's eyes opened wide, and his heart started to beat faster. So fast that Judy heard it. She put a paw on his chest and smiled.

"You may be a dumb fox Nick, but you are my dumb fox." And when she looked in his emeralds, she saw he had understood. But it wasn't enough for her. "I will never leave you, Nick. Never. As long as you want me by your side." And she hugged him, nuzzling his neck, breathing deep his scent, reveling in his warmth. She didn't have to wait for long before feeling his arms cross behind her back and return her embrace. After a moment she broke the hug, and met his eyes. He leaned forward, but she put her paw on his mouth.

"Not so fast, Slick." Nick stopped and raised his brows questioningly. With a grin, Judy spoke again.

"You still haven't said everything you needed to." Nick kissed her paw and gave it a playful lick, which earn him a small and cute "yeeep" before she hid her paw behind her back. His half-lidded stare was back, and so was his smugness.

"Clever bunny." Judy smiled. Her fox was back, and his smile sent her guts on fire. But she wouldn't let him win that easily.

"Nice try, Slick, but wrong!" And she poked his nose, laughing when it made him sneeze.

"Sorry for being a dumb fox?" She heard in his voice he was just messing with her. And as much as she liked their little banter, she was really wanting more. She took his head in her paws again, caressing the sides of his muzzle gently.

"Nick, please. I want to hear them." How could the fox resist his bunny? So he yielded, and spoke the words that would change their lives forever.

"I love you, Judy." The smile that crossed her features could have replaced the sun in his eyes. With tears forming in the corner of her eyes, she spoke in a shaking voice.

"I love you, Nick." And this time, she crossed the distance that separated their muzzle until their lips met, and all of their worries vanished.

.

[AN

Quick AN, sorry: yeah, not as much fluff in there as promised. I tried to make a bit of a background for the stuff and it kinda backfired. I hate my brain sometimes…

Next chapter will much better, I swear.

AN]