A suitcase had never looked so ominous, at least in the eyes of her parents; her brothers and sisters; her aunts and uncles; her neighbors and friends. Just a single suitcase that held everything she would need until she established herself in the city, from clothing to her most needed office supplies and beauty products. It was an unwieldy old thing. Square, metal trim, a lining that had fallen out years ago, a hard outer shell that was meant to protect things that really weren’t that fragile anyway. Bulky, unattractive, lime green with a white carrot print on either side, with the customary snaps that locked with an actual full sized key. It had gone out of style decades ago, but it was the only one she had. Her parents had never expected one of their kits to leave the Burrow.
The same parents that were using the suit case to stop her from leaving the house. Again. Stu Hopps’ paw gripped the handle, which was thankfully durable, to pull her back towards him. She allowed him to pull her to a stop, though she didn’t budge from the threshold of the door. Of course, they would see her walking out as a sign that she was really going through with it, as if the front door had ever been a barrier to hold her in. But the truth was more complicated. To her, she was already in Zootopia. Her mind, her work, her heart and her future were in the city.
Her body was simply running late.
“Dad, please stop,” she said softly, dropping her ears when she put the suitcase down for the tenth time that morning. She was tired of arguing, tired of seeing the fear and sorrow in her mother’s eyes and the panic in her father’s. Her mother, at least, had stopped crying. She didn’t dare think that the pretty, plump faced older bunny had simply run out of tears before closing herself off in the kitchen. “I have to do this. I want to do this. I’ve been working for months just to get permission to take over the Otterton defense, not to mention the hell I went through finding a guide.”
“Guide,” her father frowned, pulling the suitcase close and setting it at his feet as if holding into it would let him hold onto her. “You mean body guard. Even you know it’s not safe, and you’re still going on without a thought for what it will do to your poor mother. You’ll have us all worried sick, Jude. And it’s selfish. Just… Just selfish.”
She heard the wobble in his voice, and saw the tears in his eyes. Again. And it hurt. Oh, it hurt so deep and it wanted to move her to embrace him; squeeze in close and let him wrap his arms around her like he had done for her entire life when she had needed comfort. She wanted to give him peace of mind, assure him that she was going to be fine and that she would always be his little carrot-cake.
“We’ve had this conversation before,” she found herself saying, keeping her voice as professionally cool as it would have been when she spoke to one of her clients. “I’ve seen those tears before, from you and from mom. Now I need to go, because the train to Zootopia only comes once a day and I’ve already lost enough time.”
Watching him close his eyes and lower his head hurt her again. Another tiny needle to her heart, another little sliver of doubt that she couldn’t accept. So she walked over to him, placed a light kiss on his cheek before she whispered, “I love you both, so much. Please, please don’t hate me.”
Then she took her suitcase in, and blinking back her own tears, walked out the door.
“I can protect you.”
Sitting in the taxi, watching the familiar landscape of Bunnyburrow pass by at a relatively tame speed, she remembered the words and the voice which had spoken them. The surprise, the instant flash of disbelief. That momentary thought that it had been a crank caller, someone from the Burrow, even. Trying to scare her into giving up what many of them saw as a foolhardy trip into the Foxes Den. Those feelings were quick to fade when there was no follow up to her silence.
“Who is this? How can you protect me?”
“The last name on your list is Finnick. Have you called him?”
She watched the burrow entrances roll by as she ran the conversation through her head, not even noticing the high ears and stares from her neighbors as the taxi went past. Trying to find some clue, some hint of who the voice had belonged to.
“How did you know that?”
“Because you’re smart enough to know who Finnick is. And you’re smart enough to know his price for protection.”
The voice had been cool, even when confirming what she already knew: the bat eared fox would have want her body, not her money. It made her sick to her stomach every time the thought of it rose, but the voice had been distantly uninterested, unimpressed. As if talking about a lawyer spreading her legs for the protection of a pimp was an everyday thing in Zootopia.
“And you? What will you want, Mr…?”
“The amount will be discussed once you are settled in the city.”
“That’s not how this…”
“And there will be a condition. One condition that cannot be negotiated. I will be with you twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. In court, on the streets, in your office, while you eat, when you sleep. There can never be more than one open door between us.”
She remembered the fear that had skittered down her spine, and the anger that had rushed up to swallow it. She didn’t know his name, his price, or his skill, and he was demanding total access to her life.
Her eyes turned towards the front of the cab, where she saw a swarm of reporters that were barely being held back from entering the train station. Sensitive ears picked up the repeated click and whirr or cameras catching photos of her last moments in Bunnyburrow. She was sure that most of them believed that these were the last moments of her life.
“That is insane. This conversation is ov…”
“They will get to you, carrot farmer. No one can stop that. They will slip in at night, or charge straight at you in broad daylight. They’ll poison your food, bump into on the sidewalk and leave you with a knife between your ribs, drive a car up the courthouse steps. You can hide behind closed doors, watch over your shoulder, and hope that they are just a little slower than you are. But it won’t be enough.”
“That’s why everyone is refusing to help you; the job is hopeless. Protecting you by conventional means is a fool’s errand. But if you agree to my protection, no matter how close they get, I’ll stop them before they can hurt you.”
“Do you accept?”
The taxi rolled to a stop just outside of the train station, and she could already see the blockade the local police had set up to prevent the reporters from surging forward. That didn’t stop the uproar or the shouted questions when she popped open the door to drag herself, and her suitcase out of the back seat. She saw the train pulling into the station, and the swarm of bunnies on the platform. It made her smile a little, seeing so many of her brothers and sister there mingled with her friends and neighbors. The mass of them made it impossible to pick out more than a few faces at a time, but they all looked worried, some a little excited, and others just sad. She just wished…
A familiar sound caused her ears to perk and swivel, the low rumble of an overused and under-tuned pickup truck. She turned as the honking started, honking that was un-necessary but exuberant as her families primary means of transporting crops barreled down the road towards her. When the truck screeched to a halt behind the taxi, the plume of dust and exhaust the spilled over the gathered reporters was a little satisfying, if she felt like being vindictive about their behavior. And she did.
When both of her parents spilled out, she steeled herself for another attempt to get her to stay, to change her mind. Instead, the two of them didn’t even both to close their doors before they ran to her and crushed her between them as arms wrapped around her and held on tight.
“Judy,” her mother said, her voice trembling as she planned multiple kisses on her cheek before hugging her a little tighter. “We could never hate you. Don’t ever think that, my baby.”
“Your ma and I love you, we’re just worried,” Stu began, then sniffled as he nuzzled her cheek. “And we can’t let you go angry.”
“I’ll be fine, you guys,” she assured them both. Judy thought it was the best hug she had ever gotten, and burrowed herself between her parents as she returned their hug and savored the warmth of her parents for what she knew would be the last time for a long while. “I have my fox Taser, after all. And my Fox Repellant.”
“That’s my girl,” Stu said, paw running under his eyes to wipe away the dampness.
Some of which had been left on her own cheek, but she didn’t mind. At least he was letting her go, and she was able to say goodbye to her parents properly this time. “I’ll call you whenever I can. I promise. I love you guys.”
All three became aware of something very suddenly, and their ears and heads turned at the same moment towards the station. Everyone was quiet. The reporters, the police, even the bunnies gathered to bid her farewell were quiet. All of them were looking in the direction of the parked train, though from the fact that she could still see cargo being unloaded with the daily deliveries she knew nothing was wrong with the train itself. Disengaging herself from her parents, she picked up her suitcase and headed onto the platform.
When she saw him, a shiver of panic slammed through her that almost had her taking a step back. The fox stood in front of the door meant for mammals her size, his hands shoved casually into the pockets of the black suit pants. Aside from his causal stance, there was nothing casual about the fox himself. The suit was black and crisply pressed, with a spotless white shirt and neat black tie leading up into the thicker fur around his neck. His muzzle was long and narrow with striking orange and cream fur, peaked by a nose that was no doubt very adept at picking up the scent of each individual bunny within his reach. Perched on it and hooked behind high triangular ears tipped with black sat a pair of aviator sunglasses. The mirrored lenses reflected her own image back at her rather than letting her get a full look at his expression and the predatory eyes that she knew were behind them.
Her own reflection.
She steeled herself, realizing that he was watching her now. And even though his position hadn’t changed, she knew he was there for her. Someone from the city? Sent to intimidate her, most likely. One of the council members who didn’t want her there, or simply a hired gun sent to scare her off.
We’ll just see about that.
Setting her suitcase down, she squared her shoulders and straightened her ears; she even forced her nose to stop twitching (as much) before she walked towards the fox with her head high.
“I don’t which one of them sent you, or if you came on your own,” she began, standing in front of him with her best haughty lawyer stance and tone in place. Inside, she trembled at the way the corners of his muzzle started to curl in what could have been a snarl. “But you’re not stopping me from getting on that train. I have permission to enter Zootopia from the…”
She was cut off when his lips curled fully, his mouth twisting into a snarl as a growl escaped him that made her blood run cold. He moved away from the train and towards her, the already blood red of his paws curved towards her with claws extended as if ready to spill real blood. Instinct told her to run, get as far away as she could. But reflex was faster, and her first reflex was to reach under her suit coat and grab the Taser from its holster on her hip. She whipped it around, sparks flying as she closed her eyes and jammed it into his chest with all her strength.
And found her wrist caught in the larger paw of the predator, who watched her calmly now as she opened her eyes. The arch of electricity was only inches from his chest, but he held it there as he looked down at her with an expressionless face.
“So you are ready to fight,” he commented, and her ears dropped as she instantly knew that silkily cool voice. “That’s good to know. You’ll need that to survive in the Foxes Den.”
As surprised by the fact that he openly called Zootopia the Foxes Den – a term that rabbits only spoke in secret and with distain – as she was by the fact that this… Fox was her guardian, she stood there in silence, her finger still pressing firmly into the trigger of the Taser. She was too stunned to stop until he reached down, and with a gentleness that seemed impossible for those large claw tipped fingers, extracted the device from her paw. He looked down at it for a moment in silence before he offered it to her, the dangerous end still pointed at his chest.
“The charge is set too high,” he said calmly, once she had taken it and lowered it to her side. “It would take half of that to knock a fox on their ass at a touch. And I assume that you know they are illegal in Zootopia now, so keep that under your shirt unless there is no other choice.”
She hadn’t even intended to ask the question, but whatever she had intended to say had been blocked by the consuming need to know the answer that he hadn’t given her on the phone. One she needed to know now more than ever, because he was a fox. A Red Fox. He would have been treated like royalty in the city, but he was going to protect her and she needed to know why.
“Stay away from my sister!”
The cry came from a bunny about half her size. Her brother, Allan, rushing forward with a small basket of blueberries in hand. A hand full of which he drew back and flung at the fox. The gasps from the crowd were understandable, and Judy’s fingers tensed on the Taser again as the fox was pelted by a good ten blueberries. He didn’t react at first, simply looked down at his suit and plucked one piece of purple fruit from his lapel where it managed to lodge.
“Who throws blueberries?” he questioned, his voice low, almost to himself before he popped the fruit into his muzzle casually. “Tomatoes, or at least a carrot. But blueberries?”
Then he seemed to pause as he chewed, and she was almost certain that she saw a hint of a smile at the corners of his muzzle before he was moving towards the little brown bunny with the oddly pointed ears. The little brown bunny who looked ready to bolt, but was too afraid to move as the fox lowered himself into a crouch in front of him. Judy and her parents were both moving forward, but paused when he simply reached into his pocket and pulled out a simple crimson handkerchief.
“Keep defending your family, kid,” he said, as he reached down into the basket and scooped out a handful of fruit. He tucked it into the handkerchief, folded it neatly, and then slipped it back into his pocket as though this were the most normal thing in the world. “In the end, that’s all that really matters.”
He reached out and ruffled the fur between the kit’s ears, the kit who looked up at him in a little more awe than fear now as he turned to face Judy. Judy, who had watched the strange exchange with a little wonder, only to see his face freeze into a block of ice again when he looked at her. As the last call for boarding rang through the station, he walked towards her and then past as he headed toward the train. She looked at her brother, who was staring down at the crisp twenty buck bill in the basket, before she heard the fox calling out to her.
“Last call, Carrots. You have a court date to keep.”
She tried to think of something to say, frowning at the fact that he had called her ‘Carrots.’