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Time Out, Time In

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Judy walked toward Nick’s place with two full grocery bags. She went up the stairs to Nick’s building and he buzzed her in.

Movie night had somehow become a thing for about two months now. They would have it at the end of the week after their shift whenever they had the next day off. This week it was a Thursday night.

Judy kicked on the door and a moment later Nick opened for her. “Here, grab this one.” She held out the larger bag and came in. They took a few steps to the tiny kitchen. “Thank you, now shoo.”

“Come on Carrots, I can help.”

“Slick, you may have many skills but you can barely make toast. Out.” She shoved him away. “Go straighten up and pick a movie.”

She heard him moving things around in his main room. Though not much bigger than the kitchen, it had a couch, a TV, and perpetual clutter. 

The sounds of them both bustling in the small apartment were pleasant. She put the noodles on and glanced toward the main room. Nick was out of sight except for his tail. She reached into one of the grocery bags and pulled out a pie carrier. She popped off the lid, put the pie in the oven, and set it to warm.

She continued to get the salad ready. Once everything was nearly done, she noticed the noises stop in the other room. Nick padded back, sniffing the air. “Is that…” he inhaled deeply, “blueberry?” His tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth as he shuffled toward the oven. “Smells gooood…”

“Yes, and you won’t get any if you don’t make us room and pick a movie.” She swatted him away.

“Clever bunny,” Nick called over his shoulder as he went back. She heard him flipping through his DVDs and stop. “Hey, you’ve seen Catablanca, right?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Nick poked his head around the door frame with an incredulous look. “Seriously? Ok, we are taking a break from your education in comedies, intentional and otherwise, and watching a classic.”

 

***

 

Judy leaned back on the couch as the end credits rolled. “Wow. That was, wow.”

Nick had one arm along the back of the couch that was now behind her. He smiled down at her. “I thought you would like that one.”

“Mmmm.” She rested her head back on his arm. “So many good characters. Which one is your favorite?”

Nick cocked his head to the side and tapped his chin. “I suppose Captain Renault.”

Judy looked up at him a little surprised. “Why?”

“He was a hustler that turned out ok in the end.”

“Awww Nick.” Judy suddenly turned and gave him a squeeze around his middle.

Nick went stiff, but then returned the embrace with one arm. After a moment, Judy sat back up and Nick let go, but left his arm around her. They were silent for a bit.

“How about you, Carrots. Which is your favorite character?”

“Rick.” She replied immediately. “He did what was right, even though it cost him.”

“That’s my bunny. But he didn’t get the girl in the end.”

“She was married, Nick.”

“Yeah, but sometimes the girl is worth getting.” Judy turned her head to glare at him. “And available,” he added, waving a paw in the air.

Judy settles back into his arm. “I haven’t made a lot of time for that. I was focused on my goal of getting in the ZPD.”

“And here you are. Looks like you could move on to another goal.”

“Hmmmm.”

“Carrots, I know you turned down Howlton.”

Judy sat up and sputtered. “How do you...do you track everyone’s love lives or just mine?”

“I’m particularly interested in my partner’s. Look, I...I just want you to be happy.” Nick paused. “You’re one of the best things that has ever happened to me.” He lightly stroked her arm.

Judy’s cheeks warmed and she couldn’t help the “awww” that escaped her. She settled against his arm again. They usually maintained personal space but this was...nice. Friendly nice, of course.

“So that’s why you agreed to those practice dates.”

Nick smirked. “Because I knew you desperately needed the help.”

Judy snorted. “You know, we never had a fourth date.”

Practice date.” Nick stopped stroking her arm.

“Right. I-I was hoping to do that. To learn more. You know, in case I get that far next time.” She looked down.

“Ah.” She felt Nick shift a little. He switched to his teacher voice. “Now you have to understand that the fourth date is crucial.”

She lightly smacked his chest. “You said that about all the others! But fine, why is it crucial?”

“Because…” Nick paused. He looked away and his tone reminded her of their first sky tram ride. “Because that’s when things are more serious.” He glanced at her. “You can get invested even after the second date, but by the fourth, you’re feeling that spark, and maybe that spark has grown.” Nick swallowed and looked back at her, their faces close. “You’re almost as afraid as the first date, or maybe afraid in a different way, because you know the further you go, the more it will hurt if it ends.”

They were silent and still. Judy thought it was suddenly stuffy in the room.

“So why turn down Howlton?”

Judy shifted a bit. “He’s a wolf. That’s a big size difference between us.  But mainly we hardly know each other.”

“You didn’t know a lot about JJ.”

Judy shifted again. “At least I chatted some with him. Nick, why does it matter?”

He could hear the hint of frustration in her voice. Nick didn’t answer. She looked up at him and saw a thoughtful look before he answered.

“I was hoping for a fourth date.”

“Practice date.” She said it automatically, but wasn’t sure that’s what she wanted to say.

Nick continued. “And that person I want a fourth date with - maybe we’re friends. Really good friends. Maybe that friend is so amazing she convinced me to change my life for the better. Maybe I really love having a friend like that and am afraid of messing up something so great. But, maybe I want to try being more than friends.” 

Judy lept back from Nick to the far side of the couch. She put her paws over her mouth and started breathing rapidly. Her nose twitched and her eyes went wide, staring at her partner. Nick’s whole demeanor changed. He slumped, hugged himself with his arms, and his ears went dead flat on his head. 

“Oh, Nick…” 

Before she could say anything else, Nick got up from the couch and slouched to the kitchen.

Judy sat there for several heartbeats. She finally slowed her breathing, took a few more moments to collect her thoughts, and went to stand in the doorway just outside the kitchen.

Nick was bent over the sink both hands on the counter. He looked like he was shaking.

Judy thought for a moment. “Hey, Nick. Time out.”

Nick straightened mostly, wiped his arm across his eyes, then turned his head half-way toward her. She could see his furrowed brow. “Time out?”

“Yes. Nick, I really need some advice.”

Nick turned partly toward her, keeping his paws on the sink. The fur around his eyes was still damp, but he still cocked his head. “Ok Car...Ju..” Nick stage whispered, “which is it?”

Judy hesitated then stage whispered “Judy.”

Nick relaxed his shoulders slightly. “Hey Judy, been a while. What can I do for you?” His voice sounded like he was making an effort to control it.

“Hey Nick. I think I’ve really messed up. You know lots more about relationships than I do, maybe you can help me figure out what to do.”

Nick cracked a small smile and either laughed it sobbed, she wasn’t sure. “Sure Judy, tell me what happened.”

“Well,” Judy took a quick breath and started pacing the small space, which was preferable to looking at him. “My friend, really my best friend, is also my partner in the ZPD.”

Nick deadpanned, “I thought you were a farmer.”

“Roll with it,” Judy hissed before continuing her pacing. “We spend lots of time together. He’s a really, really great guy. Oh, and he’s a fox.”

Judy stopped and faced Nick but could only look at his shoulder. “And do you know what I like most about him?”

Nick’s had turned halfway toward her. He shook his head. 

“He tries. He tries to make the world a better place. He tries to make himself better. And he comes from such a hard life, a life I can’t understand. And I was a horrible friend to him…”

Nick turned fully toward her and interrupted, “Hey, time out! Or in, whatever. That’s in the past. We’re good Carrots.”

Judy looked him in the eye and pointed at his chest. “Don’t interrupt! Time. Out.”

Nick held up his hands in surrender and gestured for her to continue. She started pacing again.

“And in spite of that he forgave me. And now we’re best friends and partners. He even went on three dates with me just so I could get the practice.”

Nick hung his head a little but kept his eyes on her. “Sounds like an ok guy. So what’s the problem?”

Judy started pacing again. “Tonight we had movie night, as usual, but he said some things that, I guess could be taken two ways, but sure implied that he wanted to date me.”

Nick nodded slowly. 

“And all I did was run away. Well, to the end of the couch. But away from where we had been…”

Judy went silent. Nick dipped his head further and kept his eyes on her. “Cuddling?”

Judy brushed her arm where Nick had been rubbing it earlier. “Yeah.” She then straightened her arms at her sides. “Maybe. Anyway, how do I know what he was trying to say?”

Nick had some of his usual grin back on his face and a bit more light in his eyes. He lifted his head to face her. “Not that I would know, but one possibility is he meant that he likes you and wants to date you. But he’s terrified.”

“Of me ? How could he possibly be scared of me?” 

“Were you scared of him on the couch?”

Judy paused. “Ok, maybe we’re both scared. But what do I do about it?”

“What do you want?”

Judy paused. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what this weird feeling is I’m having!” Judy buried her face in her paws.”

Nick had a more genuine smile now. “Describe it. Describe how you feel.”

“My stomach is doing somersaults. I feel like I had four espressos in a row. I miss...cuddling already. My face is burning. I want about twenty more dates with him. I can’t hold a train of thought. I want his sarcastic smile.”

Judy gasped and stopped pacing. “I’ve fallen for you...him, haven’t I?”

Nick took two steps toward her and put his hands gently on her shoulders. He smile was now brilliant. “It sounds like it, yes”

“But I ran away, and I think I hurt him.”

“Do you still want to try a relationship with him?”

Judy thought for half a heartbeat. “Do I want to have something more than friendship with him? Yes, yes I do.”

Nick’s eyes shone. “I think you should go back in there, call time in, tell him how you feel, and see what happens. Bring on that obsessively determined bunny I know.”

Judy looked firmly at him, pulled him by the hand back to the couch. She let go as he sat back down and she took her spot at the opposite end.

“Nick, I…” Nick wagged his finger at her. “Oh, right. Time in.” She scooted next to him, kneeling on the couch, and took one of his paws in her hands. “Nick, I think you are an amazing mammal. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and spending time with you. Our dates…”

“Practice dates,” Nick added smugly. Judy ignored him.

“...were a lot of fun. I don’t think I realized until now, tonight, how much you mean to me. Would you like to try? Try together, on a relationship?”

Nick put his other paw on hers. “Judy…”

Judy stage whispered, “We’re time in!” 

Nick rolled his eyes and whispered back “I know.” He continued in a normal tone. “Judy, I realized about three months ago that I had fallen for you.”

“Full grown cabbages! All this time!”

“Yeah, and it would have been great if you had figured it out sooner.”

Judy’s expression became softer. “So is that a yes?”

Nick gave her a true, genuine smile. “Do I want to try? Together with you? Yes, yes I do.”