Judy fiddled with her paws nervously and wished she had some playing cards to occupy them. If anything they were fun to stare at. She liked the illustrations of the Lion King, the Elephant Queen, the Ram Knave. Which was strange because Judy didn't particularly care for art or gambling. But lately, everything was playing cards, poker chips, and those damn sunglasses.
She sat in the passenger seat as Nick drove her home after their workout. Their jobs were tiresome enough but Judy was determined to at least make it to the gym four or five days a week. She was also determined to make Nick go every time, which wasn't too hard. He had told her that getting started was the hard part, and that now that he had a routine it would be better not to break it. Judy's only gripe was that he should have more cardio days, but he says that lifting feels better most of the time. She couldn't argue with the results; ever since her coaching him for the academy, the fox had acquired quite a toned frame. Every day she could see new features in his musculature.
Aside from the eye candy, the workouts also reaped the favorable result of being able to spend more time with Nick. Which seemed to be more and more of a rarity with each passing day. If anything, separation only increased her desires to be around him when she could. Often Judy wondered if she was being too flirty, too clingy, or too interested in what he had to say. Other times she wondered what it would be like to have Nick just grab her with those amazing arms of his and pull her into something more than their usual hugs.
The car was full of both of their odors, and Judy didn't mind one bit. Nick had actually done cardio today, and the sweat and musk were at greater levels than usual. She was being hotboxed and it sent her mind wandering to what it would feel like to have Nick above her, panting and sweating for entirely different reasons. What would it feel like to have him plant kisses along her neck and begin groping at her-
"Wet enough?" Nick asked, breaking the silence.
"H-huh?!" Judy stammered.
"I said do you think it's wet enough? The street has little rivers flowing down either curb. I didn't know you lived in the Rainforest District, Carrots."
"O-oh yeah. Well they said this storm would be something else. I guess I should have paid more attention to the TV though, I didn't think it would get this bad."
"Tsk tsk. You gotta be on top of things, Fluff. You know I sure won't be. It's not like Finnick's van comes equipped with TV. And if you think Honey trusts a TV in her bunker then you're sorely mistaken."
Judy sighed. His home. The van that isn't even his. And when Finnick was busy? Honey's bunker. Judy was by no means a material person, but even she couldn't fathom his way of life. At the very least she needed somewhere that kept her feeling secure, and her tiny apartment was just that. She had no idea how Nick managed to live so long with nothing to his name but two suitcases.
He just seemed to not care. That was Nick; he just really didn't care. Believe it or not they went out to dinner once and his clothes actually matched. When Judy had managed to pick her jaw up from the floor, she realized that he cleaned up very well. But his shirts were a testament to his casual attitude; he wore them because they were comfy and he didn't care that looked like an eyesore.
This was just one aspect of Nick that Judy had recently begun to analyze. Perhaps over-analyze, if she felt like talking herself down.
His shirts were a red herring. His grin was a poker face. His jokes were bluffs. His sunglasses were a mask.
"Nick." Judy spoke up.
"It's getting worse."
"Yeah. I see that."
"I don't want you driving all the way to Honey's when it's storming this hard. Everyone loses their head and gets into accidents when it's raining."
Nick gave her a sideways glance. "You're gonna let this stinky fox stay on your floor for the night?"
Judy grinned. "That's the idea, Stinky." Even though Judy was internally dreading the moment he would shower.
Nick looked forwards. Eyes on the road. Of course he was just being safe, but Judy could see gears whirring in his head. Thinking of all the routes, the rivers that his future could branch off into. Moments like these had shown her that when he shuts his mouth for a minute that he really does care. He cares about some things at least. He cares about his money. His job. His friends. His mother.
He cares about Judy, too. She knows this because he tells her this. Then why did he...
It was their dinner night a couple weeks ago. Just some arbitrary celebration for working together for a couple months now. Judy had been trying to get Nick to stop being so miserly and spend some money on himself. She took him to a sushi buffet, somewhere that would drain his wallet a bit but fill his stomach. Although fish was the focus here, Judy had plenty of veggie options to feed her. The fish was for Nick. This night was for him. She was really proud of him.
It was a rainy night, but not as stormy as this one. Almost like a prelude to this stormy night. Judy couldn't help but think back to this night when she thought of Nick in this way.
They had both had a bit of alcohol at the sushi bar, so they called a cab for a ride home. Her home. It was the first and last time Nick had spent the night at her place.
They swung through her door, boisterous and giggling. It was all so silly and fun, almost unreal, like it had happened in a dream. Nick had picked her up and let her ride around on his shoulders. They talked loudly and laughed together. It was wonderful.
Judy remembered everything, she was too alert. Nick however, had much more to drink than she did, coupled with him still trying to adjust to a police officer's diurnal lifestyle and the physical demands of the job and their time at the gym. He fell asleep like a baby moments after laying down on her bed.
Judy climbed into bed with him. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed her head into his chest. It was like snuggling together with her siblings back home, except one Nick equated to about four bunnies. He was so big and fluffy and warm. She felt a gentle, loving power emanating from his unconscious form.
Maybe it was the alcohol that clouded her judgement and made the entire act feel so light and comforting to her. At least, she really wished she could pin it all on the alcohol.
Judy fell asleep in his embrace, completely comfortable and at ease, like they were always meant to fit together like this.
Then her little puzzle fell into pieces.
Nick had awoken, and his sudden movement startled her awake. He was groggy but she could tell a fire was lit inside of him; he was shambling out of the sheets with drunken purpose.
"C-Carrots. I-I-I...I'm sorry. This wasn't supposed to...oh fuck."
She had seen Nick like this once before, on the sky tram when he opened up to her about his past. She loved the everyday, snarky Nick. He was fun to be around. If he really rubbed her the wrong way she would have never asked him to be her partner. But she wanted more of this rare Nick. He was worried and afraid and just so...genuine.
But he was also once bitten, twice shy. Nick was tenacious and tough, but that was just because of his wall. He managed to always stay ambitious and sharp his whole life, but only by stopping himself from ever feeling.
She had to be careful with her words. Think past the arousal and alcohol clouding her judgement. She had to convince him.
"No, Nick it's okay. Just...come lay back down."
"Please? I mean...we can share a bed as friends, right?"
"No, we really can't, Hopps." he replied hastily.
She felt fear grip her. Was she losing? He wasn't standing around to talk. He was grabbing his jacket, looking for where he left his phone. Was he going to fold? She had to keep him here.
"Then can we share a bed as...lovers?" she asked. Her voice was flirty but sincere.
His ears shot up. Did she do it? He was turning to face her now.
"I didn't do anything to you, right?" Nick asked in a low, concerned voice.
"No." Judy spoke truthfully. 'I wish you did, dummy.' She screamed internally.
"Judy, I...I had fun tonight. I really did. But the alcohol it just...things got out of control. This shouldn't have happened. It was a mistake." Nick explained to her gently.
It was the most gentle shotgun blast through the heart that Judy had ever felt. This amazing night? A mistake? How could he feel this way? How did she let that amazing feeling slip away from her?
All those fun times together. The subtle hints she had thought he picked up on. Their heart-to-hearts. This "date" night.
She fell for it.
Nick played her like a fiddle.
"Nick please, I-I'm in control, honest!" She lied. The alcohol was a definite factor in this mess. But she had been feeling this way for a while now! The alcohol just gave her a kick. "And if I'm drunk, then you are too. There's no harm in that, right?"
"Wrong." Nick told her sternly. "I'm not discussing this further."
The room felt so cold. Nick was no longer exuding heat waves, but instead she could feel a chill from him. It was just the way he was.
Judy sat there on the bed, trying to cling to the warmth he had given her. Trying to find her own inner fire. But right now she was barely stoking coals.
"Take care of yourself, Hopps. I'll call you tomorrow. And don't worry, I'll just call a cab or maybe Finnick to come pick me up."
Then he walked out. He was the one walking away and she had to sit alone in her bed, disgusted and humiliated with herself.
To the victor go the spoils.
Emerging back into the present reality, Judy put that night and all the other awkward moments behind her. Moments where they had ignored that night. Moments where she caught herself flirting with him or being too friendly. Moments like this current one.
Nick was in the drivers seat, pulling into the parking garage near her apartment. He was still looking straight forward, mind still whirring.
Judy didn't want to have another rainy night like that one. Not so soon. She wasn't thinking straight enough for it.
"Forget about it, you can take care of yourself. I'll just call you tomorrow and we can go to the movies if you're still available." Judy said as cheerfully as she could. She also hoped it came out as lighthearted as she wanted it to, wanting to forget about her earlier offer.
"Oh? But I was actually going to tell you that I'd like to stay over."
Judy's ears shot up.
"Does that offer still stand?" Nick asked earnestly.
Judy felt a faint hope blossom. This might be her second chance after weeks of him pushing her away. He was done stinging from that awful, drunken night. Judy looked down to her paws and saw the imaginary playing cards. Maybe she wouldn't have to fold after all.
"Took you long enough to decide, Slick." Judy shot at him with a grin.
Nick just chuckled. "Well, it was just such a hard question, Carrots. How do I know you have enough blankets?"
Judy gave a half-hearted laugh in response before looking out the passenger window to see a vast expanse of gray outside of the parking garage. After fighting past the initial gloom, Judy reminded herself that somewhere beyond the heavy clouds there was a beautiful sky.
"I'm sure you'll be just fine." Judy assured him before opening the passenger side door for a miserable walk to her apartment building.
Safe, sound, and growing dryer by the moment inside Judy's apartment, the two of them were enjoying the shelter from the storm in each other's company. Nick had already made his bed for the night, which amounted to Judy's spare blankets sprawled out on the floor for him to lay on. The two were finishing up the microwave slop that Judy kept in her apartment. She even made a point to keep a few boxes of food that would suit Nick's dietary needs around for situations like this.
They quietly sipped on carrot juice, with the cheap microwave meal in their bellies and a storm raging outside her stale apartment. Judy didn't care. She wouldn't wish for all of the finest things in the world if she only had one wish. She would wish to be a better gambler.
"Well that was a great way to throw away fifteen dollars! Thanks a lot, Nick!" Judy jokingly yelled at her partner while walking down the sidewalk.
"Throw it away? Carrots, that fifteen dollars certainly did not go to waste-" Nick paused as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash "-it's right here! To the victor go the spoils." Nick flourished the money with a boastful voice.
"You couldn't go easy on the newbie?"
"Judy Hopps, First Rabbit Officer of the ZPD, wanted something the easy way for once? Not buying it."
"Mmmh no...but you're totally buying me something with those winnings, right?"
Nick made a show of scratching his chin and pretending like he was really thinking about it. "I dunno, Fluff...okay, sure. For my favorite bunny."
Judy felt her cheeks heat up. "Thank you, Nick. That's...really sweet."
Nick's walk became a bit more rigid. "Hey, I figure I owe you, right? With your help the academy was a breeze."
Judy had mixed emotions about knowing that Nick got through the physical demands of the academy more easily than her. Sure, he was bigger, stronger, and had her as a coach, but it still kinda stung. What stung even worse was Nick's rebuff of her feelings. Perhaps he was just oblivious but that was the problem. If he wasn't interested in her, Judy had no idea. She was completely in the dark, unable to get a good read on him.
"And..." Nick began again. "I think I can tell you something that will help you out a bit."
Judy's ears shot up. "Oh?"
Nick nodded. "About poker."
"Oh." Judy replied, a bit less interested. 'I thought we were having something of a moment.' she thought angrily. She could feel her scowl starting to form as the subject shifted once again to gambling.
"Yeah. You had a really good grasp on the rules for a beginner. But that's no shock because you're a smart bunny. And it would be silly to over-analyze your mistakes, so instead I'm gonna ask you what you thought about everyone else's play."
"Wait, you're not gonna tell me what I did wrong?" Judy asked.
"You did a lot wrong. But once again, you have the excuse of being a beginner. I want to know if you see any flaws in some more seasoned veterans."
"Well...Finnick...slammed his beer down a lot?"
"You're on the right track, in a way. He plays bad cards far too often. Has faith that he can beat the odds and makes too many losses. Also just too emotional in general. You can call his bluffs pretty often."
Judy nodded, now realizing these things after the fact. "And Honey, she...she definitely raised a lot?"
Nick pointed a finger at Judy. "Another point to the Junior Detective! Much like Finnick, Honey gets a bit too optimistic about her cards. Good cards, but she blows her cover at the idea of winning big. She lets the payoff slip away from her, and doesn't make enough winnings."
Nick went on to tell her about other people that frequented their poker games now and again. Finnick's cousin who was probably even more reckless just because he was loose with his money. Flash who (sadly) managed to stay in the game longer than anyone else but never managed to win big. Anna, an arctic fox vixen who slowly lost the game by folding far too often. Grizzoli from the force who, to his excuse, was simply incredibly unlucky.
"So you're telling me we're all playing Nick Wilde's game, huh?" Judy commented dryly.
"Hey, I can't help it that I'm the highroller. Nobody seems to mind though, since the money comes back to them one way or another. It's a bit of an unspoken rule that if you clean out your friends in a friendly game of poker, you're the one buying drinks and whatnot."
"So what's your weakness, Nick?" Judy asked.
Nick gave an exasperated laugh. "I just gave you everyone else's secrets and you want mine too? No way, Fluff. You'll have to figure it out on your own."
Judy had no response. It was just a fun conversation to Nick, but Judy took those words to heart.
"Your palace awaits you, Princess Judy." Nick made a grand motion towards the front door of her apartment building's front door.
"Hey Nick...I had fun tonight. It was nice hanging out with you and meeting your friends. I'd like to do it again." Judy told him.
Nick smiled. "We were thinking about playing strip poker again, but I guess that's off the menu if the pure bunny is coming along. I don't want to bring you to that."
Judy stepped back in shock. "W-wait, you play...you mean...you get naked?"
"That's the general idea." Nick grinned. It was like the naturalist club all over again.
"Even Honey? Anna? Other girls?"
"Hey, I'm no naturalist but I can at least wrap my head around the idea of innocent nudity. It's just a game, Carrots."
Nick. Naked. Around naked girls. Judy felt herself clench her fists without realizing it.
"Y-yeah. I get it. Just kinda shocking is all, you know?"
"Mhm. But they liked you too. We'll play again sometime. And I'll see you at work tomorrow."
"Okay. Thanks for walking me home. Good night, Nick."
"Any time!" Nick called out into the night air, already walking down the sidewalk away from her. He was growing smaller in her vision as she watched him walk away, fading into the darkness.
Their fun always felt so cut short. His words were always so guarded. The life he lived seemed so cold and foreign to her, as if she were the sun and he was the moon. His life was among other predators. Nick was synonymous with late nights, slum streets, shady bars, and poker games.
'And I'm going to beat him at his own game.' Judy thought.
Judy thought of these previous nights as rain pounded away at her window.
'Spending tonight with Nick is good enough for me.' Judy thought to herself. They would have each other's company and friendship. She would be someone he could always rely upon.
Until the dissatisfaction of that thought struck a fire within her. Of course it wasn't good enough. Good enough is never good enough! As comfortably as the atmosphere was, she was willing to break it. She didn't want Nick to wander away from her into the arms of another woman. He needed to know her true feelings if she was ever going to be satisfied. In more ways than one; Judy wasn't sure if she could get off to bunny-on-bunny porn anymore.
She couldn't handle this the Judy Hopps way, however. She couldn't be bold or even honest right off the bat. She had to play by his rules.
"I think I'm getting a taste for carrot juice?" Nick idly pondered out loud.
"Really?" Judy asked with a hint of skepticism.
"No. Not really." Nick deadpanned.
"Aww. And here I thought I was growing on you." Judy teased.
"Hmm. Maybe. I'm clearly growing on you if you can keep up that snarky tone, though."
"You know it." Judy took a large drink from her glass, finishing it off. "Speaking of, I'd like to join you for the next poker night."
"Alright. You know you're welc-"
"Strip. Poker." Judy emphasized.
Nick held his tongue, and turned his head to the side. "No-go on that. I don't think we really care to do that anymore."
"Really now?" Judy pressed.
"Yeah, really. It was just for a bit of fun but the novelty really wears off."
Call the bluff.
"You're just saying that because of me. You don't think I can handle it."
"That's not it, Cottontail."
"Yeah it is."
Nick went silent for a bit. "Okay, yeah, it is. Don't take it personal but no nude bunnies allowed. Now, if you don't mind I'm gonna shower."
"No!" Judy blurted out. For one, she really didn't want to say goodbye to that smell just yet. Her other reason was she wasn't done talking.
Nick's eyes narrowed, catching on to her mood. "Okay. Your loss."
"You think I can't handle strip poker?"
"Yes. That's exactly it."
"You're a bad liar, Nick." Judy sang.
Nick looked particularly offended. "I'm the best liar there is! Lying is what I did for a living, you forgetting that part?"
"Oh yeah? Tell me a lie." Judy pressed on.
"What, just any lie?"
"No...tell me..." Judy bit her lip. It really was now or never.
"Tell me that you don't want me naked around your friends. That you're doing it out of some...romantic notion of keeping me pure."
Nick went silent.
"You said that after the night we played poker." Judy continued. "You called me pure. You called- you said I was your bunny. You seemed really friendly and-"
Nick actually stood up to leave.
"Nick!" she bolted in front of the door. "Are you really going to walk away, during this storm?" she asked him, genuinely shocked.
"I've ignored my problems under worse conditions, Carrots."
"Nick just stop joking, it's raining really hard out. I'll...I'll stop. I'll leave you alone and not bother you again, just stay here for the night and don't go out in-"
A large crack of thunder seemed to shake the entire building. Or perhaps it was only so powerful in contrast to the shaky atmosphere of the room.
"That." Judy deadpanned after the thunder went silent.
Nick slowly slinked back down onto his seat on her bed. She followed, sitting down next to him, but making sure to give him adequate space.
"Don't stop bothering me, please." Nick managed to mutter.
Judy sat silent, wanting him to continue.
"You bothering me was probably the best thing to ever happen to me." Nick admitted solemnly.
"Nick...do you really mean that?" Judy asked apprehensively.
"Yeah. I was a criminal, Judy, albeit a minor one. I was cynical and a bad example and...lonely. You really turned my life around and just- you just make life more fun."
Judy felt an immense warmth growing in her.
"You? Lonely? At least you have friends. I was the one who was completely alone until I met you. Nobody in this city cared about me. Everyone at the ZPD either gave me fake smiles or straight up scowled at me. They all thought I would fail. You were the first one to believe in me. You stopped Bogo from taking my badge. You solved the case with me. I know I'm the one who asked you to be my partner but...you secured my job before I secured yours."
Nick smiled at her. "And...how do I make you feel?" he asked with concern.
Judy rested her head on his shoulder. "I think you already know. You make me feel like life is more fun. Like I just can't get enough of you, and I find myself missing being around you as soon as you leave. You make me feel like...Like I don't want you to play strip poker with other girls, or go home every night to Finnick or Honey."
Nick put an arm around her, which made Judy jump and let out a bit of a squeal.
"Would it make you feel better if I told you I haven't even thought of other girls for quite a while now, let alone done anything with one?"
Judy's heart was ready to beat out of her chest.
"Since I picked up on your obvious flirting, Cutie."
Embarrassment and anger caused her to blush deeply. "W-whoa. First of all, don't 'Cutie' me! Second...if it was so obvious that you're able to make fun of it, why didn't you...you know...say something?"
"I was...going to." Nick trailed off.
"When?" Judy wondered out loud.
"Listen, Hopps. What we have -as friends- well... it's really important to me. I don't think I'd be able to live with myself if I fucked it up."
"But you knew I was interested, so what was there to fuck up? You had to have known I'd say yes."
"Judy. If life has taught me anything, it's that there's plenty of opportunities to fuck up. What if we don't like living together. What if our parents drive a wedge between us. What if I say or do something that hurts you. What if-"
Nick went silent, and hung his head. The room was quiet for a good while. The torrent outside sounded so distant to the vacuum of her room. With her head against Nick she could feel him. Really feel him.
He felt different from that night of alcohol and warmth on her bed. She could sense chills and waves of vulnerability from him. She rested her smaller paw over his larger one.
"That night really had you worried, didn't it? That you ruined what we have?" Judy asked tenderly.
Nick simply nodded.
"Well...tonight isn't that night. I'm not drunk. You're not drunk. It's just the two of us and how we really feel. And I feel like you should go for it."
"You think?" Nick asked.
"I feel." Judy repeated herself. "What I think is that you need to have more faith. That's your weakness."
"You said I'd have to figure it out on my own and I did. Nick think of all the times you've ever folded. And then you realize your opponent had an even worse set of cards. You could have won, you could have had something great but you doubted yourself."
"Well, yeah, but that's part of playing the game, Judy. A lot of times the odds are against you and someone else has a better set of cards. It's smart to fold. You don't lose as much."
Judy gingerly placed her paw on Nick's muzzle and brought it to face her. She gazed into his brilliant green eyes. He looked as scared as she felt, but he managed to keep his gaze steady. Judy felt her courage falter before simply going for it.
"I think what we have is worth gambling on."
Judy wanted to think the kiss was passionate but she couldn't even fool herself. It was incredibly forced and one-sided as she pressed her mouth against the very front of his muzzle. Fox lips were exotic and strange, and Nick certainly wasn't helping. She had her other paw pressed behind his head and she felt a slight bit of resistance as Nick tried to pull away from it.
However, Nick slowly began to return the kiss in earnest and lean in towards her. He placed his paw behind her head and pulled her in to his embrace. Judy could only melt in the bewilderment of Nick becoming more and more forceful with the kiss. She shuddered as she let him ravage inside her mouth with his long canine tongue that seemed to have an insatiable hunger for rabbit.
They broke the kiss and both began gasping for fresh air. Funny how easy it is to forget you need to breathe when you just got everything you ever wished for.
Judy suddenly felt enlightened.
"H-huh?" Nick replied in a daze.
"I love you! And you love me! We're together now and we can live together-" Judy stopped her giddy bouncing with the sudden wave of fear that washed over her. "Right?"
Nick simply picked her up and laid the two of them down on the bed. Judy lay atop Nick on her stomach, her face caressing his chest.
"Right. Plus if we're a couple I don't have to sleep on the floor tonight." Nick quipped.
Judy giggled and thumped his chest lightly. "Don't ruin the moment, Slick!"
"No, really. You don't know how difficult it was leaving the bed that night. I really wanted this for a while now Judy. You flirting with me only made it harder. Made me feel bad for pushing you away. I'm sorry."
Judy nuzzled against his chest. "I understand, Nick."
Judy gasped as Nick suddenly squeezed her tight and laid his chin atop her head. "Just please- please stay with me. I promise I'll always try to do right by you and never hurt you, Judy. I love you so much." His voice shook a bit. Judy could tell that opening up to her this much was difficult for him, and that he was really scared for what the future held. She was a bit scared too, but snuggling Nick in this way put her at ease.
She squeezed him back, so wonderfully warm and full of love. "I love you too, Nick. You've made me happier than you could ever realize..."
Immediately Judy could feel Nick's entire body relax.
"You're gonna move in too, right?" Judy asked.
"Do you really want me to?"
"Hmm...let me think." Judy sarcastically pondered. She pressed her face into the fluffy fox chest and took in a deep breath of his scent. "Aaaahhhhhh...yep. I want you to."
Nick gave a genuine, hearty laugh. "Okay. I will. But only if I get to call you cute."
Judy made a whiny noise. "But!"
"Hey, that's what rabbit guys call their rabbit girlfriends, right?"
"And it's what fox guys call their fox girlfriends. It's not a species thing if we're dating, Fluff. I'm not calling you cute because you're a bunny; I'm calling you cute because you are cute, Judy Hopps."
"F-fine. I'll just have to deal with it I guess." Judy stammered, wishing Nick would call her cute even more. His explanation had her sold; she really wanted it as a compliment now that it wasn't being used to demean her. "As long as it's from you."
"And I won't use it around anyone else." Nick promised with a small kiss to the top of her head.
Judy snuggled in closer to Nick as if she was burrowing. "Thank you, Sweetie."
Nick snickered. "Sweetie? Is this payback for Cutie?"
"Don't like it?"
"I love it."
"The rain is finally calming down."
"It did a great job of keeping me here." Nick offered jokingly.
Now it was Judy's turn to snicker. "Well, guilty as charged. It was a reason to have you stay over."
"I think I like rainy days now." Nick stated, followed by a big yawn.
Judy closed her eyes and listened to the warm, powerful beat of Nick's heart.