Nick was muttering.
He was sitting right across from her, staring down at an untidy stack of loose paperwork, fidgeting with a pen and muttering.
She knew what he was doing. Oh, she knew exactly what the sneaky fox was doing. There was only one reason that Nicholas 'never let them see that they get to you' Wilde would act this way: He was trying to provoke her. He wanted her to ask what was wrong, so he could trick her into offering to help. Then it'd be 'Sorry, Carrots! I have this really important thing blah blah blah' and suddenly she'd be doing all the work for him...again.
Well, it wasn't gonna happen. Not this time.
Risking a quick glance at her partner, she saw that his brow had furrowed slightly. The corner of his mouth had even turned down a bit in the beginnings of an anxious frown, and despite herself Judy felt it tug on her heart. She was just rallying her willpower when Nick pulled out the big guns; a faint, heartbreaking whimper.
"You alright, Nick?"
"Hm?" The fox looked up, blinking wearily. "I'm fine, Carrots. Just going over some financial stuff."
"What kind of financial stuff?" She asked warily.
"Mostly trying to figure out where all my money is going." His smile was the perfect blend of self-deprecation, good humor, and warm affection. What a jerk.
"Back taxes?" She ventured, hoping to throw him off his stride a bit with a reminder of the considerable debt he still owed to the ZRS; to her dismay, he took the comment in stride.
"Among other things." He sighed. "I'm not gonna lie, Carrots. Sometimes I do miss making $200 a day."
"Illegally." She reminded him.
"Hey, now! You know I had all the right permits. It was ethically dubious, at worst." He countered, as he always did.
"I'm not sure the Zootopian Revenue Service would agree with that." She fired back, smiling at their debate's customary conclusion. "You're lucky you mostly worked with cash, or they'd have you on the hook for a lot more."
"I guess that's true. And lemme tell you, $73,000 a year goes pretty far when you're not handing twenty-three percent of it over to City Hall." Annoyed, he began tapping his pen on the document pile. "I only make $51,000 with the ZPD, and I end up losing more than I keep. $12,000 in taxes alone."
"We all do, Nick." She pointed out to him, secretly enjoying the way his fur bristled with irritation.
"Well, I'm also paying $1500 a month for a tiny studio apartment! Just because I'm not allowed to put 'no fixed address' on official ZPD documents."
Taking a deep breath, she swallowed her annoyance and reminded herself that he just needed to vent a little. "You're four feet tall, Nick. You've got plenty of space, and that's pretty standard rent for a place in the city."
"Maybe." He grumbled. "But when I add in everything else – groceries, coffee, police union dues, health plan, retirement savings plan, back tax payments, strata fees, and the million other expenses that come up over a year –you know how much I end up with?"
She knew she didn't need to ask, but she asked anyway. "How much do you end up with, Nick?"
"About $7,300 per year, Carrots. Or to put it another way, roughly $20 a day. How's that for irony?"
"You just need to plan out a budget and remember to stick to it."
"I have a budget, Carrots." Her partner insisted, glaring as if she hadn't been listening. "And it works out to $20 a day."
"Oh, good lord." She muttered, sliding out of her seat and walking around to his side of the desk. Despite telling herself that she wasn't going to get roped into helping him, it was obvious the poor fox was in over his head. "That's not what I mean, Nick. You need to figure out how you can spend less money, and the first step is cutting down your existing expenses."
"How about I just go back to not paying taxes?" He suggested teasingly.
"Very funny. Maybe you could start with not spending $250 at Snarlbucks every month."
He huffed as his tail twitched indignantly. "I don't spend that much at Snarlbucks."
"You get at least two of those venti frappe caffeine-bombs every shift. It adds up, you know."
"I'm nocturnal, Carrots. I need those to stay sharp."
"If you don't like being tired, have you considered not staying up until 1am every night playing video games?"
He considered that, quickly doing the math in his head before waving the thought away. "No, that won't work. I'm looking for ways to save money, not undermine my quality of life."
"Of course. How silly of me." Rolling her eyes, she went back to sifting through the papers. As she tried to make sense of the disorganized mess, an unexpected thought rose up from the depths of her mind; an idea she'd been mulling over for a while and now had a unique opportunity to run with. "You know, I've heard that cooking for two only costs 50% more."
He shook his head in bewilderment. "Then I'd be spending more money and throwing out half the food I made. What good would that do me?"
That had been a bit too subtle. She'd try another angle. "Alternatively, you could save a few bucks on your utility bill if you turned the heat down at night."
"And freeze my tail off? I'm gonna pass on that one, Fluff."
"There are other ways to stay warm at night, Nick."
"Like buying a second comforter? That's $100 spent to save...what? $8 a month?" He turned to peer at her skeptically. "I thought a budget was about spending less money?"
Clearly this called for a more direct approach. "What about a roommate? They say a shared load is a lighter load."
"Oh, do they?" He chuckled. "I live in a 200 square-foot apartment, Carrots. Not a lot of space for another mammal."
"It's cozy. You just need to find a roommate who likes cozy spaces."
"Easier said than done."
"Not necessarily. I mean, I like cozy spaces."
"Just another thing that makes you one in a million, Carrots." He smiled, and she felt her face grow warm. "Plus, my bed takes up half the room."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"No, but I like my bed and I'm not getting rid of it. That doesn't leave much space for a second mammal."
"You're assuming they want their own bed." She muttered.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." Judy answered, smirking. "I'm just saying that a roommate would cut your rent and utilities in half and one-quarter off both of your groceries."
"Okay, fine." He conceded. "I'll consider it."
"That's good to hear." She grinned, stepping a little closer. "I should mention that I'm thinking of moving out of my place."
"Yes, Nick. I am."
"Thank goodness. You deserve much better than that hole."
"Right. But since living in the city is so expensive, I'll be looking for a roommate as well."
"You'll probably have more luck than me." He laughed lightly, leaning over to bump his shoulder against hers. "You're much easier to get along with."
"Oh, you dumb, dumb fox." Shaking her head in disbelief, she briefly considered giving up on the painfully obtuse mammal. "Nick, I need you to pay close attention now. Can you do that?"
"Sure." He agreed, sounding a little perplexed. "Did I miss something?"
"Apparently so." She took a deep breath. "Look, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to recap all the suggestions I've made, and I want you to really listen to them."
He nodded, looking more curious than confused now.
"Okay. I think you should find a roommate, and as it turns out I'm looking for a roommate, too."
She eyed him expectantly and he gave her another nod.
"Then I suggested that you find someone who likes cozy spaces the same way I do, and doesn't mind that you have a big bed."
She couldn't be sure, but she thought she saw a flicker of understanding in his eyes.
"Finally, I told you that you could save money by cooking for two, and ease your utilities bill by finding another way to stay warm at night. Nick...please...are you picking up what I'm saying?"
It was unbelievably frustrating to watch the gears slowly turning in her otherwise razor-sharp partner's mind. "I'm still a little los-urk!"
Grabbing him by the muzzle, she yanked his face down to hers. "Nick, I swear I will seduce you with flashcards if I have to."
That's when those slow-moving gears came to a grinding halt; she had to wait a full minute for her fox to reboot.
"W-wha..." He stammered. Blinking, he appeared to marshal his thoughts to try again. "I...you...wha...?"
"Articulate as ever, Slick." She laughed affectionately. Leaning against his desk, she gave him her very best comforting smile. "Look, we've been dancing around one another for months now. I may not have your nose, but I can still hear the way your heart races when we're together. Aren't you tired of feeling frustrated?"
"Y-yeah." The fox nodded slowly.
"Me too." She sighed. "Nothing is going to happen unless we decided to make it happen. So this is me, making it happen."
"Are you...is this for real?"
"If you want it to be."
"I really, really do." He nodded furiously. "But there's a difference between friends and, y'know..."
"Yeah." He croaked, swallowing nervously. "And it's a sizable difference. I just don't want us screwing everything up."
"The way I see it, the genie is out of the bottle now; no take backs. I'm not scared of our differences, sizable or otherwise." She gave him a little wink. "Besides, if we're going to make this work, there are a few 'sizable differences' we'll need to overcome."
"Right." He chuckled, gracing her with one of his rare, slow smiles. "Well... I think we'll figure it out."
"I know we will, but for now..." She tapped her finger sharply on the bundle of papers, and the smile on Nick's face vanished. "According to these, you desperately need to put together a monthly budget, you spend-happy maniac."
"You got it, Carrots. However, I actually have a really important appointment right now that I can't miss. Would you be able to get a start on it, then we can go over the fine details when I get back?"
"Absolutely not. You're doing this now."
"I mean it, Nick. Sit down." She commanded, smiling when her fox begrudgingly obeyed. "Good. Now, first thing's first; we'll start with your net income..."