Nick could never figure out how they ended up this way: Judy’s small muzzle nestled in the scruff of cream fur on his chest, one of her ears flopping over his muzzle as she slept. Less than a month after he’d graduated the academy, black mold in the ventilation had caused a mass eviction of Grand Pangolin Arms, followed by a suspicious electrical fire that had burned the dingy complex to the ground. Left with no other options, he’d invited her to stay with him until she found a new place. It was the least he could do, after everything she’d done for him.
She’d been less than enthusiastic about the idea, after seeing the state of his apartment. It wasn’t that he was a slob, though he was far from the neat freak his mother was, he figured it had more to do with the fact it was completely new territory for her. And him, if he was being honest. Sure, they’d both had bunkmates at the academy, and she had over 270 siblings, but it was the first time either of them had been alone like this. Their first few nights hadn’t exactly been awkward, at least until she’d accidentally walked in on him changing once. He chuckled to himself; it had been a full week until she’d been able to look him in the eye again.
Part of him was surprised how quickly he’d gotten used to her being there, hearing her muted, slightly off-key singing in the shower in the morning, smelling the amazing mix of scents when she cooked in his small kitchen. It sure beat the silence and stink of burning TV dinners or takeout leftovers that used to fill the little apartment. His constantly-on-the-fritz microwave had been one of the first things to go when she’d moved in, and hadn’t yet been replaced. Most of the other things had been smaller, an old book here, a cracked cup or dish there. Little by little, they’d worked through the light clutter, Judy taking over the dusting and vacuuming he so often ignored.
That left him with the worst chores: cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, frequently rearranging the furniture to try and make the most of the space they had. They’d spent most of the afternoon setting the latest arrangement, the couch pushed against the back wall, centered under the large window. The coffee table close enough for her to put her feet up those rare times she felt like it. The end tables were set together on the opposite wall, his TV flickering quietly on top of them. He reached for the remote teetering on the back of the couch, shutting it off and pushing the gray plastic back. The soft rhythm of Judy’s breathing was all he needed right now.
He ran a thumb down her furry cheek, a small smile touching his lips. Most of their new life revolved around the stained old sofa, from eating their meals to reviewing case files to those rare nights when there was nothing to do. They’d started on opposite ends, the bunny curled against the arm as she half-heartedly watched whatever show they settled on for background noise. But every night, she’d sat fractionally closer, until her head drooped against his shoulder when she nodded off. The night after, his arm had ended up around her shoulders, her cheeks flushing at his cocky smile. She hadn’t pulled away, though, actually snuggling against him the next evening.
There’d been a slight break in the routine a few weeks before, after a fist fight with a suspect they’d been interviewing. It hadn’t been anything serious: a sprained rotator cuff and lump on the head from being slammed against the wall, enough to land him in the hospital overnight. Judy had been by his side as long as she’d been allowed to, fussing over him no matter how times he’d tried to shoo her away. It had been so easy to see the guilt in her eyes, though he wasn’t sure why it had been there. He’d been the one egging the hotheaded wolf on, trying to get him frazzled enough to spit out the truth. They’d gotten the information eventually, but it had come at the price of him getting hurt. And to Judy, nothing was worth that. He smirked; at least the other guy had seen the losing end for once.
Nick wrapped his arms more tightly around her, shifting his posture until he was lying on his back, his knees bent and tail draped across her. She murmured sleepily, scooting up until her head was nestled under his chin. He chuckled softly, his fingers trailing along her arm. He loved the feeling of her small, trim body against his, the way her warmth melted the cold, careless demeanor he’d built the last two decades. It was such a relief to not have to hide himself anymore; he could finally be the fox he’d always wanted to be.
And it’s all thanks to you, Carrots.
He rubbed the back of her head, his smile widening as she moved into his touch. He’d finally gotten used to the fact that she felt so comfortable around him, remembering the day he’d watched her drop her fox repellant in the trash. It had been right after they’d turned in his application; she’d paused on their way out the door, taking the canister from her belt and grinning as it clinked in the metal can.
“I feel safe around you, Nick,” she’d said, brushing past him as he’d stood there gawking. She’d giggled, taken his paw and tried to drag him along. “Now, come on, we have a lot of work to do if you want to be ready for the academy!”
The months that had followed had been some of the most grueling of his life. Judy had dragged him out of bed every morning at 4AM, taking him to every borough and putting him through the same drills over and over until he was sure he could do them in his sleep. Then once he felt like every limb was about to fall off, she’d take him to the windiest, hilliest hiking trail she could find, saying they’d be taking a little jog to cool down. He’d simply hunkered deeper into his seat, hating the sweat matting his fur under the blue track suit she’d bought him. She’d barely paused before putting on the sneakiest look she could muster, saying he was even softer than she’d thought, if he couldn’t handle something a “cute little bunny” had been able to breeze through. She’d even gone so far as to suggest he was scared, mockingly saying that he had every right to be, that he’d probably get eaten alive before the first day was up.
It had taken several jabs in that vein just to get him to look at her, several more with the promise of blueberries from her family’s farm before he’d finally unbuckled his seatbelt. She’d been off like a shot before he’d even hit the ground, pausing every few hundred feet to let him catch up to her. Those seconds-long breaks had been drawn further and further apart, until he’d run the entire trail without stopping. That had been an incredible moment, seeing her elation as he’d crested the last hill, able to stay standing where before he’d collapsed in a heap.
“You did it, Nick!” she’d jumped up and hugged him, shouting and laughing as he’d lifted her high and spun her around. He had collapsed then, falling on his back in the grass, her giggling form still clinging to his heaving chest. "I knew you could do it!”
That had been the first time he’d actually felt it, the burning urge to pull her even closer than she’d already been, to kiss the breath out of her even though he hadn’t yet regained his. He’d stamped it out just as quickly, not wanting to risk scaring her away. He wasn’t sure he could handle being alone again.
I don’t think I can handle keeping it secret much longer, either, he added silently. But I can’t tell her...I just can’t...
He let his tail flop to the floor, pushing himself up with one arm, the other still wrapped firmly around her. She moaned softly at the shift, her slender paw tightening in his fur. Her own soft gray and white shimmered in the late afternoon sun streaking through the gaps in the blinds, the amethyst of her eyes flashing as her thick black lashes fluttered. He found himself slowly tilting her head back, her small pink nose twitching as he leaned closer, his hooded gaze locked on her soft, parted lips.
I can’t tell her, he thought. But I have to...