Their break was almost over. Nick took a long pull from his blueberry smoothie and idly watched the busy intersection through the windscreen. He had snagged the perfect spot for their break. It was near one of their usual lunch places and Judy’s favorite smoothie counter. And in their elevated patrol car, they had a commanding view of one of the busier intersections in the financial district.
Said bunny, however, seemed to not appreciate this. She occasionally glanced around, but the regular buzz from her phone would draw her attention for a minute or two as she read and replied to the texts.
“Carrots? Who are you texting?”
“Carrots, your hat just caught fire”
“Yeah, just a minute.”
Nick smirked and casually leaned over, muzzle nearly touching her shoulder. He whispered in her ear, “Is it your folks?”
She jumped and turned her phone face down in her lap. “What? No! I’m just...hey are we on the clock?” She tried to look steadily at him, but her nose twitched. She hoped he didn’t notice.
Nick leaned back in his seat and put his shades back on and a grin on his face. “Fine Carrots, don’t tell me what’s going on. But you should know my birthday isn’t that close, so you don’t have to plan the party this far in advance.”
Judy chuckled and gave him the most sarcastic look she could before looking at her phone again. She was in the middle of typing out her reply when Nick touched her elbow.
“Hey, look. Do you see that ibex over there?” She immediately set down her phone and started scanning the crowd with narrowed eyes.
“Where, Nick? Is he in that clump by the benches?”
“Now let’s see…” Nick suddenly sounded very relaxed. She was confused until she looked over at him going through her phone messages.
“Give that back!” Her shout caught him off guard and a small scuffle ensued. It ended with Judy getting her phone and Nick straightening his shades and trying to smooth out his uniform.
They sat in silence for a few moments, before Nick spoke up. “Sooo...who’s JJ?”
“Ugh. I knew you would get all...whatever about this.” Judy put her head in her paws and sighed. She knew she could either evade, draw it out, and eventually tell him or go ahead and tell him now. “Jack Jones.”
“Jack Jones...Jack Jones...Ah!” Nick snapped. “The barista at the Furbucks on 12th! Right?” Judy sighed and nodded. “I think he eyes you every time we go in. Heh, Jack. Not a very original name for a rabbit, eh?” Nick looked at his partner and saw the twitchy nose again before she turned away. Nick started the car and pulled out to continue their patrol. After three blocks of silence, Nick tried again. “Well?”
“Well, why is he texting you?”
Judy took a deep breath and said all at once, “He wants me to go on a date. With him.” She looked up at her partner and was surprised to see several emotions fleeting across his face. It quickly settled to his pleasant smile though.
“Well, that’s...nice. He seems like a nice buck.” He looked back at her; her nose was practically vibrating. “When and where?”
“When and were what?” Judy snapped back.
“When and where are you going out?”
“Why, thinking about crashing it?”
Nick grinned. “Of course. So?”
She suddenly looked away again. “We don’t have it set.”
Nick glanced over as he drove. “Hey, Carrots, if you need me to cover a shift or something for you, then I don’t mind…”
“No, I’ve put him off twice.”
Nick may have put the brakes on slightly harder than necessary.
“Is he bothering you?” Judy heard the hint of a growl.
“No! I mean, I do want to go out with him sometime. I guess...I guess I’m just nervous.”
Nick visibly relaxed. “Oh come on Carrots, it’s just a date. You know how it goes. The first one is awkward. If there are more, then they get better. The relationship is the hard part. At least for some of us.” He glanced over at Judy who had an odd look on her face.
“Come on, how many bucks have you been involved with?”
“This doesn’t...I don’t have to...none.”
“What?” Nick, once again, put the brakes on a bit too hard. “Officer Hopps, are you serious?”
“It’s not easy to get into the academy, especially when you’re a bunny! I had to be better. I had to let other things go. That’s just one of the things I...let go.”
“How many dates have you been on?”
Judy was silent, ears drooping. She let half a block slip by before she replied. “Not that many.”
“So, not that many? I don’t even know what ‘not that many’ means to a bunny.” He grinned at her, to no effect. “Ballpark of...fifty?”
Judy only shook her head.
She shook her head again.
Nick looked at her like she had suddenly grown a rhinoceros head. Nick turned the corner and drove another half block before responding. “They were school dances weren’t they?”
Judy sighed and her ears drooped even further. “How do you do that? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have much experience so yes I. Am. Scared.”
Nick pulled in to a spot near the park. They automatically got out and started walking the perimeter. About half-way around, Judy gasped and started smiling and bouncing. “Hey Nick?”
Nick lifted his shades.. “Yes?” he replied cautiously.
“You can teach me! You can teach me about going on a date.”
Nick quickly dropped his shades again. “Ah, Carrots, you’re playing with fire. My charm might be too much for you.”
“Please Nick! You’ve been on real dates, you can help me with what to do and how to act.”
“What’s in it for me?”
Judy gave him a huge grin. “You get to be seen with the famous Officer Hopps of the ZPD.” Nick looked at her over the rims of his shades. Judy tried a more pleading look. “And you’d be helping a friend.”
She put her paw on his shoulder. They both knew he didn’t have a defense against the look she had on her face. He sighed. “Alright Carrots, I’ll do it.”
Judy whooped and hugged his arm.
“Ok Carrots.” Nick gently shook his arm to get her to let go. “Here’s the plan. We’ll both do our best to act like it is a real first date. That way you get some sort-of-real practice. But…” Judy was bouncing next to him, but calmed some when he paused. “...because you’re a beginner, you’ll no doubt have lots of questions. To accommodate that, we will have a rule. You can call a ‘time out’ and talk about what’s going on.”
“Oh, like in buckball?”
“Or clawpost which is still the superior sport.” Nick pressed on, ignoring her playful indignation. “Yes, so you can call time out to figure out what’s going on and time in to get back to the action.”
“YES! That sounds great.” Judy’s excitement radiated off her.
“Well, how about tomorrow?”
“For...our date?” Judy’s eyes darted to Nick, then everywhere else.
Nick choked on his spit but covered with a cough. “Practice date, and yes. You want to go out with this JJ guy, right?”
Judy thought longer than Nick thought necessary. She eventually went full-Judy-determined mode. “Yes, Yes I do.”
“Then you need practice as soon as possible. That first date is crucial. We both get off by 4, so I’ll come pick you up at 6.”
“Nick, I can just meet you somewhere.”
“No way Carrots, you’re getting the full Nick Wilde first date treatment. I’ll pick you up at your place. At 6.”
Judy practically hummed with energy for the rest of the shift.
(sorry for changing the update date - just adding the cover image)
Chapter 2: The First (Practice) Date
Judy aimlessly bustled around her room. She picked up her phone, put it down again, checked the time, checked the window, checked her dress, paced, and realized if she didn’t stop she would go crazy. She checked her clock again. It was still 5:54, just like the last two times.
She realized her foot was thumping and managed to still it, but only by pacing her one room again. “It’s just Nick. This is just practice. It’s no big deal. It’s just Nick…”
Someone knocked on her door and she lept to it immediately, took a deep breath, and opened it.
“Hello Miss Hopps,” Nick smiled pleasantly. She noticed he wore a shirt she hadn’t seen before with his usual tie. He stood up straight and had his arms behind his back. “These are for you.” He gently pulled a small vase with a few flowers from behind his back. It was small, simple, and perfect for her one room.
“Uh, time out!”
“Already?” Nick smirked playfully. “What is it, Carrots?”
“Should I invite you in while I put them down or do you just come in...?”
“A gentleman would never enter a lady’s place without permission.” Nick kept his smile but seemed unusually serious. “If he brings flowers, he should expect to wait at the door while you go take care of them.”
“Thanks Nick, these are lov…”
“Ah ah ah,” the fox waggled a finger at her. “You have to call time in for that.”
Judy went wide eyed for a moment. “Oh, right. Time in!” She settled back into a shy smile. “Thank you Mr. Wilde, these are very nice.” She turned to put them on her (only) table, checked her bag, and turned back toward the door. “And please, call me Judy.”
“You’re welcome, Judy. And please call me Nick. Shall we?” Nick gestured toward the hallway.
Judy’s heart fluttered slightly, but her determination pushed through. “Yes! Where are we going?”
Nick led the way as they walked side-by-side down the hall. “There’s a rice bowl place just two blocks from here that we can try.”
“I haven’t been there, sounds great!” which was true.
The pair walk side by side in silence for about a block. She finally couldn’t stand it.
“Time out. Nick, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this quiet for this long. What’s going on?”
Nick grinned back. “Are you nervous?”
“Pfffft, no, it’s just you after all. ” Nick had another strange, fleeting look on his face, but it passed quickly to a small grin and a silent stare back.
Judy tried to hold out, but soon gave in. “Ok, yeah I’m a little nervous. Why? Why am I nervous?”
Nick sighed. “On the first date, you’re putting yourself out there, much more than after that. You know there’s some attraction between you but you don’t know much else about the other person. If you’re not friends already you’ll know very little about him. It’s risky. To some that can be thrilling, but I think you’re still risk averse in relationships.”
“I am not risk averse! I’m a cop after all. And I have made some friends here.”
“Yeah, Carrots, that totally explains why you haven’t dated anyone since you’ve come to the city.”
Judy huffed, opened her mouth and raised a finger. Nick cut in before she could speak. “I happen to know you’ve been asked out at least twice in the past three months.”
Judy rounded on him. “How do you know that?”
Nick smiled and replied. “I only knew of one but thank you for confirming at least one more.”Judy huffed, called time in, and let Nick open the door of the restaurant for her.
They were quickly seated and ordered. Silence again.
Judy looked up at Nick. “Time out. So...what do I talk about?”
“Just pick something to ask.”
Nick cocked his head, then grinned. “Anything you’d like to know. Most anything about your date is fair game. You should start with something easy like his job.”
“So, how do I ask about your job when we were together all day?”
Nick put a finger to his chin and thought a moment. Then he snapped and grinned. “Ok, we’ll pretend to be doing the jobs we had before becoming cops.”
“So I can ask you about hustling?”
“My various business ventures? Yes. And I can ask you about playing in the dirt?”
Judy grinned back. “Farming. Yes. Time in. So Nick, what do you do for a living?” She couldn’t quite help the smug look on her face.
“Well Judy here we are. Thank you, I had a lovely time.” Judy turned toward him in time to see him bow slightly.
Judy realized they had returned to her building. She had been enjoying the walk home so much she hadn’t realized where they were. She was suddenly flustered again. “Time out. Uh Nick, do I have to invite you up?”
Nick looked genuinely taken aback. “N-no! You definitely don’t.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “You never have to invite a guy up. But definitely not on the first date.”
Judy let go a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. She found it left an odd flutter in her stomach. “So how did I do?”
Nick’s face shifted from his cool, easygoing smile to sincere.
“Carrots, this was the best first date…”
“ Practice date.”
“...that I’ve been on in a long time.”
Judy’s cheeks inexplicably heated at that and she briefly dropped her eyes to the pavement.
“And because of that, I’m going to tell you the big secret about the first date. The tod…”
Nick shook his head as if to clear it, “...uh, buck, is just as nervous and terrified as you are. He’s putting himself out there too.”
Judy cocked her head and looked somewhere around Nick’s chest. “Huh. So…” Judy’s ears drooped, “...it’s just going to be awkward.” She almost immediately perked back up. “Well, then I will be not nervous so he isn’t nervous either.”
Judy grinned up at Nick and gestures to them both, “Well, at least this wasn’t awkward. Time in! Thank you again, Nick for a fun date. I hope we can do it again sometime.”
Nick swallowed and and pasted on his easy smile. “Thank you too, Judy. How about I call you sometime?”
Chapter 3: Judy Needs Another (Practice) Date
Debriefing on the first date, awkwardness, and silliness.
Sunday morning was bright and clear. Judy actually liked having a Sunday shift. They were usually light on crime and she could catch up on paperwork. Or, more accurately, make Nick catch up on his paperwork.
Judy floated along out of the subway, grabbed their usual coffee order, and practically bounced to the precinct.
Nick was chatting up Clawhauser as she came in. “Hey you two! What a gorgeous day! Let’s go make the world a better place!” She waved a paw to summon Nick to follow her to the bullpen.
Nick and Clawhauser exchanged a look. The cheetah looked like pure glee; the fox just grinned and rolled his eyes.
They quickly took their patrol assignment and left in the squad car.
They were five minutes into the patrol when Nick spoke up. “So are you going to tell me about Friday night? How did it go with the jack rabbit?”
Judy has been nearly humming with excitement and finally burst. “It’s JJ, and oh it went great! He picked me up right on time. He was very polite and took me to this great potato bar…”
Judy spent the next twelve minutes narrating the evening.
“And then we were back at my place.” Her enthusiasm finally spent. “But he kind of...lingered a bit.” Her ears dropped a little. “It was like he was trying to say something or waiting for something. I had to finally tell him goodnight and head up. But, I put it up to our nerves” She shrugged.
She finally took a sip of her coffee and noticed Nick’s cup was already empty and looked slightly crumpled.
“Oh Nick, thank you so much for the practice date. It felt like I knew what I was doing. That was sooo helpful.” She smiled and put a paw on his arm. “You’re a great friend.”
She saw his ear flick and he coughed once. She couldn’t see his eyes for the sunglasses, but she saw his smile. “Of course, Carrots. After all, you’d have been lost without my help.”
Her phone buzzed and she whipped it out. “We’ve been texting on and off since the date…” She was silent for a moment, then suddenly let out an “Eeeep! He wants to go out again!”
Nick hit the brakes heavily, then shook his head. “Carrots, I nearly jumped out of my hide!”
“Sorry, sorry! But he wants to go out again!” She waved the phone at his face as if he could read the rapidly wiggling device. “This Friday, oh yay!”
She suddenly paused and turned to her partner. “Nick! You have to take me out again! I don’t know what to do for a second date. Ugh. What’s the same? What’s different? Do I act different?”
Nick glanced over at her. “Are you sure? I mean it sounds like you did great this time.” She wasn’t sure if she heard bitterness in his voice. He’s probably still mad about my yelp.
“Nick, I really want you to take me out on a date.”
They both went silent for a few heartbeats as the face value of her statement sunk in. Judy fidgeted and stared at her lap. “A practice. A practice date. You know? I-I really need the practice. On a practice date.”
She finally looked up at Nick and found a huge smirk. “Well, I guess if you really want me to take you out on a date…”
Judy moaned. “Sweet cheese and crackers. You’re not going to let me forget that one, are you?”
“No way, Carrots, Not a-“ Judy interrupted him with a light punch to the arm. “Ow!” he said with no sincerity. “Free tip, Carrots. Don’t assault a guy if you want him to take you on a date.”
Judy huffed and Nick made her stew for a few seconds. “Ok Carrots, will do. Time in.” Nick put his fist up to his head, thumb by his ear and pinky by his mouth.
“Ring ring ring...ring ring ring…” Nick did a hilariously bad impression of her ringtone for him. She rolled her eyes and imitated his phone gesture. “Hello, Nick?”
“Hey Judy, good to hear you.”
“Good to hear you too.” Judy grinned as she got into character. “How is business?”
“Not bad, but it slows down on the weekend. How are the flowers doing?”
Judy felt her cheeks heat. “They’re very nice. They’ve been a colorful addition to my place. I like seeing them whenever I come home from work.”
“I’m glad they’ve lasted this long. I admit I thought they would only last a day or two, not a week.”
“Well, I am a farmer! And I am motivated to keep them going.” She swallowed and pressed on. “I had a very nice time on our date.”
She turned to Nick and gave him an inquiring look.
He nodded and gave her a thumbs up. She saw his eyebrows raised above his lenses as if impressed.
“Me too, Judy. That’s actually why I’m calling. Would you like to go out again on say, Tuesday?” It was his turn to glance inquiringly at her.
She nodded, then spoke into her pinkey. “Tuesday sounds great. What time?”
“Can I pick you up about 5? Dress casual. I have a plan.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She grinned. “Sounds great. I’ll see you then.”
They both “hung up,” and burst out laughing.
Nick spoke first. “Time. Out. That was very smooth, Carrots. Have you been holding back on me? You can be quite the flirt.”
Judy’s cheeks heated yet again. “Thanks Nick, for everything.”
Her ears stayed straight up the rest of the shift.
Hey folks! I plan to update about every week or so. Hopefully.
Chapter 4: The Second (Practice) Date
Judy and Nick have their second practice date. It gets interrupted by work. But then a thing happens.
Judy stuck out her tongue as she lined up what would be a bank shot against the side wall. Just as she swung the putter back, Nick had a massive coughing fit.
“Oh come on. ”
“So sorry,” he said, magically recovering. “I accidentally swallowed a gnat. Were you in the middle of your shot? Oopsie.”
“You. Hush.” She shot him a playful but effective glare, pointing her putter at him like a sword. She turned back to her shot, took it, and her bright green ball went in the hole.
“Yesss! Par again! Did you get that?”
“Yes Judy, I got it,” Nick replied as he wrote on their card against his knee. “Ok, my shot.”
Nick lined up his own shot, took it, and his bright purple ball missed the hole by four inches. He looked genuinely disgusted. He quickly putted his ball in while Judy did a wiggly dance.
“Onward to hole seventeen!”
The mini-golf course had the usual silly contraptions on the holes. Hole seventeen had a series of burrow holes at the top level that led to pipes out the bottom. One pipe went straight to the hole while others pointed other directions. Judy walked over to the holes, looked down at the pipes sticking out at the bottom, tapped a few holes with her putter, then nodded and walked back. Nick had shadowed her.
“I believe it is your turn, Judy.” He swept one arm toward the starting tee.
“Hmmm. Nice try.”
Nick glared at her but set up for his shot for his chosen burrow hole. He lined up, then glanced at her. He suddenly angled toward a different hole and took his shot. He ran to look at the lower level in time to see his purple ball come shooting out of a pipe far from the hole.
Judy giggled at him. “They were both wrong Nick. Sorry!” She lined up for her putt, hit the ball firmly, and got it in her chosen burrow hole. She lept to the edge to look down in time to see her hole-in-one.
“Woohoo!” She jumped down and did her wiggly victory dance again.
Nick finished with par. They walked over to the eighteenth hole. Judy lined up for her shot when Nick put a hand on her shoulder.
“Oh come on Nick, let me get one shot off.”
“No, wait, uh, time out. Do you see that kid?”
Judy looked up straight ahead instead of at the hole and saw the ram. He was about eight or nine and cowering beside a vending machine.
She took a quick look around the area. “He looks lost. Do you have your badge?” She pulled hers out and hung it from its lanyard around her neck. Nick attached his to his shirt.
They both looked at the eighteenth hole and shrugged at each other. Without a word, Nick handed Judy his ball and took her club. She walked down the green and dropped both balls in the hole leading to the hopper while he quickly left their putters at the counter. They met up and walked toward the ram.
Nick started to casually walk by and stopped as if he suddenly noticed the ram. “Oh, hey there sport. How ya doing?”
The ram sniffled and barely looked at Nick before sliding closer to the vending machine. Judy then came around Nick and smiled at him.
The ram saw the badge, looked at her face, and perked up. “Hey, you’re Officer Hopps, the bunny cop! I saw you on TV!”
“Yes, that’s me! Officer Judy Hopps, ZPD. And this is my partner, Officer Wilde. What’s your name?”
Nick got down on one knee so he was nearly eye level with Stu. “Hey Stu, you look a little young to be here by yourself.”
Sniffle. “Uh, my mom and brother are here. I think.” Another sniffle.
Nick’s eyes went wide. “Oh no, I don’t see them here. Are they lost?”
“It looks like your family is lost Stu! I think Officer Hopps and I should help you find them.”
“Uh. Yeah.” Stu now had a small smile on his face. “Let’s go find them.”
Judy held out a hand. “Come on Stu, let’s do some detective work. You show me where you saw them last. Officer Wilde will check with the employees.”
Twenty minutes later the pair managed to leave the mini golf course.
“Well, Officer Wilde, that was one of the easiest cases we’ve ever had.”
Nick smirked. “I think we spent more time letting them take selfies with us than actually finding his mom.”
“And now...time in! Thank you Mister Wilde for a fun round. I haven’t done that in a long time.”
“You’re very welcome. Now, let’s see about some supper…”
Judy smirked. “Which I will pick because I won our round.”
Nick gaped and put his hand over his heart. “Judy, what do you mean? I’m very sure I won that round.”
“Oh really?” Judy shot a piercing grin at him. “Hand over the score card and we’ll see.” She held out her hand to him.
“Oopsie. I must have accidentally thrown it away when I turned in our clubs. I guess we’ll never know who won. Hey, let’s just go to this little diner.”
Judy facepalmed, gave him an affectionately exasperated look, and said “Sure. Sounds great.”
“And here we are again, Judy. I hope you had a good time.”
“Very much Nick. Time out.” Judy relaxed. “How did I do this time?”
“Carrots, you’re a natural. You know you hardly called any time outs this time. Must be some bunny aura or something. But listen, here’s the thing about the second date.”
Judy wished she had her recording pen.
“The second date is a crucial point.”
Judy furrowed her brow. “You said that about the first one.”
Nick waved a paw. “Right, but this is really crucial. Up till now things have been casual. From here on, if you say yes to doing something with the tod, uh buck, then you’re encouraging him.”
“Yeah, after the second date, when you say yes, or with pretty much any attention you give him, you’re saying something more than you want to try this out - you’re encouraging him to think you’re more serious about him. And more so with each yes.”
Judy looked a little taken aback. Nick held up two paws. “Hey, this is not saying you’re getting engaged, just that he will start to assume you’re interested and getting more so. So if you’re not, better to end it early.”
“Got it. Ok, time in. Well, Nick thank you again.”
“Thank you. Do you mind if I text you?”
Judy smiled. They texted regularly outside work anyway. “Not at all.” She moved toward him, hesitated, then put her hand on his shoulder to pull his head closer. He complied, and cocked his head to one side as if to let her say something in his ear. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and quickly stepped back.
“Time out. Um, how was that ?”
Nick touched his paw to his cheek and blinked a few times. “That...you’re definitely a natural. He should be putty in your hands.”
Judy was relieved, but somehow couldn’t quite look Nick in the eye. “Thanks Nick. See you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow Carrots.”
Judy raced to her door, fumbled with the keys, finally got in and shut the door behind herself. She leaned her back against her door. “Judith Hopps, what in the world was that about?”
Chapter 5: The Third (Practice) Date
Florian was the nicest place they had been so far, (practice) date or otherwise. Not “white tablecloth” but enough to dress up a little.
“I’ll have the supreme salad with raspberry vinaigrette.”
“Same as the lady, but with crickets and ranch.”
They both lapsed into silence, not looking at each other. Nick occasionally stole a glance at his partner. She determinedly stared out the window resting her chin on her fist. The look on her face did not invite conversation.
“Um, Judy, you seem off today. Are you ok?”
She turned to look at him and tried to keep her face neutral, but her eyes couldn’t hide her anger. She decided to play along for now. “No, not really.”
“If you want to call off the date…”
“Practice date,” she muttered only barely loud enough for him to hear. She continued in a normal voice. “No, it’s fine.”
He flattened his ears against his head, giving up on looking neutral. “Do you want to talk abou-“
“It’s work stuff.”
He paused. “Can I ask what happened?”
She took a deep breath and thought before continuing. “It’s...I’m really frustrated with a coworker right now.”
Nick swallowed. He involuntarily glanced at the exit and calculated the fastest route before forcing himself to continue. “What did your coworker do to make you upset?”
Judy’s eyes blazed. “He’s...let’s call him... Rick . Rick and I were working together in a...dangerous situation.”
“A dangerous situation? On a farm?” Nick deadpanned.
Judy’s glare went up two notches. Nick held up placating hands. “I’m sorry, please continue.”
“ Anyway , Rick stupidly charged a dangerous… farm machine...and tackled it and got hurt in the process.” She glanced at his upper left arm. She could see the bulge of the bandage under his blazer. “He should have waited for back...uh, other workers to come help”
Nick kept his ears flat but set his jaw. “That does sound foolish from that perspective.” Judy gave a small grunt. “But what if this Rick saw the dangerous machine charging at you?” His voice raised slightly. “What if he thought you were going to get hurt? What if he thought the other workers wouldn’t arrive in time? Maybe Rick was terrified that...”
“Who had the vinaigrette?”
They both suddenly looked at the waitress who stood there with their salads. They both put on an air of relaxation. “That’s me, thank you,” Judy said pleasantly.
“And this must be yours.” She put the other salad in front of Nick, giving him a close look. “Can I get you anything else?”
Nick spoke up. “No this is great, thank you.” Judy just nodded.
The waitress leaned over to Judy and whispered something. She shook her head. The waitress glanced at Nick before leaving.
They both looked at their salads and immediately ignored them.
Judy looked Nick in the eye. “I’ll tell you what I think,” and proceeded over Nick’s raised finger. “I think Rick was very used to working on his own, relying on his own skill and not trusting his...co-workers.”
Nick sat back with his lips pursed together. And arms folded across his chest.
“I think he’s so used to that, it’s hard for him to trust the abilities of others. He needs to trust me.” Judy’s eyes pled her case. “I don’t think he noticed but I lept a good ten feet away with time to spare. Only when I turned around did I see him wrestling with the, uh, machine.”
“Time out. Really? You can jump that far?”
“How do you think I got over the arctic wall in the academy?”
Nick slumped a bit and stared at his salad. “Huh.”
“I assumed you knew I could leap that far and evade that fast. You know, bunny and all? Then the perp would get confused and stand still long enough for you to dart him.”
Nick let out a little snort. After a few moments he spoke up quietly. “I’m sorry, Carrots. The possibility of you getting hurt...scared me.”
“You think you were scared?” Judy held out a paw across the table. Nick took it automatically. “How do you think I felt when I saw him get you with that knife?” She hoped he didn’t notice her eyes were watery.
Nick tried a tentative smile. “Considering the pummeling you gave him, I don’t think that boar has any doubt.”
She tried and failed to suppress a chuckle, which broke the tension. They both gave in to some laughter.
Nick sighed and gave her a genuine smile. “I’ll try to do better, ok Carrots? Partners?” He gently squeezed her paw.
Judy smiled and squeezed back. “Partners.” Judy suddenly let go of his paw and straightened up. “Oh, now you have to explain the third date! We were so, uh, quiet before you didn’t get to give me your briefing.” She grinned eagerly at him.
Nick gently rubbed his now empty fingers into his palm before coughing and going back to his easy smile. “Of course, Carrots. We may as well eat though, as our salads are getting warm.”
They both dug in.
“Now the third date is crucial.”
Judy smirked. “You said that about the first two.”
Nick waved dismissively with his fork.
“Yes, but this is really crucial.” Judy rolled her eyes. “Hear me out. You’re still checking each other out at this point. The third date should be a time to really check the tod...”
“Yeah, yeah...check the buck out for the interest and the spark. You know each other a bit by now. You’ve had a few dates and probably talked or texted. Maybe even had a little disagreement.” He had the presence of mind to look sheepish. ”You should have some idea if you like him well enough and ,” Nick held a finger up to make his point, “if you have that spark . That connection with the guy.”
“Hmmm.” Judy was thoughtful. “Have you ever felt it?”
Nick leaned back and gave her an unreadable look. “Maybe. I’m not sure. Say, what did that waitress say to you?”
“Huh? Oh, she asked if I need the bartender to come check on me.”
Nick looked at the bar and his eyes went very wide.
“That guy could be Bogo’s big brother.”
“Yeah, I think you’ve tussled with mammals enough for one day.” They both smiled and returned to their meal.
It wasn’t until she was getting into bed that Judy realized neither of them had called time in.
Chapter 6: Ghosted
Judy was on edge. She powerwalked their usual Thursday beat. She went around the shopping district three times to Nick’s one. Back at ZPD, she threw herself into her paperwork with a fury, triple-checking for accuracy. She caught up on all the mandatory online training.
She jumped when a paw touched her arm. She glanced at her phone - still silent - before turning to the intruder. Nick stood near, but with his arm withdrawn half-way as if he had been burned. “Hey, Carrots, let’s take a quick break. C’mon.”
“I-I’ve got things to do.” She replied as she polished her badge.
“Come on partner, just a quick break.”
Judy hesitated. “Um, ok.” She got down from her desk and followed him to the break room. As they walked in, Rockport looked up, smiled at Judy, gave a quick nod to Nick, and left without a word. Nick steered her to a table and got her some coffee.
“Carrots, what’s eating ya?”
Judy looked up and suddenly realized where she was. She took a small sip and hunched over her cup protectively. She looked down at her paws.
“You’re down about something. Literally. Your ears have been droopy since Tuesday, but you’ve been manic with work today.”
“I’m fine. I guess I just have lots of energy!” Judy pasted on a bright smile. She hoped Nick would give up as she was close to tears.
Her phone buzzed and she immediately looked at the screen and read the text.
“You’re worrying me.”
It was from Nick.
She looked up and he pulled his phone out from behind his folded arms. “And you’re obsessing over your phone. Carrots…Judy, please talk to me.”
“He...he never called me back.” Judy had to wipe her eyes but was determined to hold it together. That was important for some reason. Nick didn’t say anything.
“The second date was pretty good. Not as good as ours,” she gestured his direction before continuing. Nick blinked but didn’t say anything. “But it was still fun and I thought we would go out again. That was Friday, and I texted him Monday, then Tuesday because I hadn’t heard from him at all and maybe something was wrong. Then yesterday morning he replied! He said “will talk soon.” That was it. And that’s yesterday and now it’s Thursday afternoon and I don’t…” a sob escaped and she had to quit talking.
She looked up at Nick and saw the most sad, gentle look she had ever seen on his face. “What did I do wrong?” was all she got out before she broke down.
Nick was beside her, holding her close. She buried her face in his chest. She felt the buttons on his shirt and the poofy fur underneath. She balled up and snuggled close. She got his shirt damp with tears and snot. She felt one arm around her back and another gently holding her head and ears. She smelled his shampoo and that undefinable but musky and comfortable Nick scent. It was enough to ground her as she sobbed on his chest.
After a minute she settled to a whimper and waited for the quip about emotional bunnies, but it never came. She pushed off from his chest and looked up at him. For a moment, she saw him staring with eyes narrowed, staring at some point far away. His lips just barely curling up to reveal a glimpse of his teeth.
He suddenly looked down and switched to a quiet sad look. She then looked at his shirt.
“Oh Nick, oh I’m so sorry about your shirt.” She grabbed a napkin and uselessly rubbed his shirt with it. She realized she was just spreading the snot around and dropped the effort.
Nick started to chuckle. She was hurt for half a second until she realized how absurd he looked. He held her close again, but with her head in his shoulder, away from the mess on his shirt. His laughter got a bit louder and it was infectious. Judy let out a chuckle among tears, looked again at his shirt, and burst out laughing herself. It felt even better than getting her tears out.
Nick finally subsided and let go. He looked her in the eye. “Carrots, I doubt you did anything wrong. He sounds like he’s just a jerk. If he wants to call things off, he should have the guts to tell you so.”
Judy looked down at her knees. “Ok but, what can I do to fix this?”
Nick looked at her sadly and shook his head. “Nothing. You can’t make someone else feel the same way about you.” Nick suddenly looked away, but quickly had his easy smile on. He looked at his watch and made some kind of adjustment to it.
“Hey look, our shift is over. Come on Carrots, I have a great cure for your blues.”
Judy wiped one eye. “Nick, I’m really not a drinker.”
“No, no, no. That’s the messy treatment. It doesn’t really work and the hangover is killer. You need the serious treatment. Dr. Nick guaranteed.”
Judy blew her nose on another napkin. “Ok, what’s the serious treatment?”
Nick numbered the items off on his fingers. “Mediocre takeout, too much ice cream, and a bad movie to mock with a friend.”
Judy felt the tension leave her shoulders and smiled. “Yeah, that sounds perfect.” Judy sat up a little. “Nick, I don’t have a TV.”
“Then you’ll just have to come over to my place.”
Nick casually walked in the Furbucks on 12th, took off his shades, and eyed the nearly empty store. Not surprising for 2 pm on a Friday. The only employee behind the counter was a rabbit with a dark brown coat flecked with white. He looked up from his phone when he heard the door chime. He immediately went to the register and smiled. His nose twitched a bit. “Hello Officer, what can I get for you?”
Nick walked up and looked up at the menu. “I’ll have...a grande Verdant pour-over with two pumps of vanilla and soy milk.”
The rabbit punched in the order and started the drink.
Nick hung around the pickup area and counted to ten in his head.
“JJ, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yes sir.”
“I think I heard you went out with one of our other officers. Hopps?”
The rabbit fumbled with the pour over filter. “Yeah, we went out once or twice.”
Nick was silent for another count of ten. “I heard you ghosted her.”
The rabbit jerked his hand and scalded a finger with hot water. He kept the pour over going with one paw as he ran cold water over his finger in the small sink.
“Hey man, we were just having some fun. I haven’t had time to text her back. That’s all.”
“Since last Friday?”
The rabbit turned his back to Nick. Once he was done with the hot water, he quickly checked his finger near one of the bright lights. He shook the water off his paw and saw the pour over wasn’t done. He turned to Nick but didn’t look at him.
“I figured she would take the hint.”
Nick counted to six this time.
“I think you’re a coward.”
The rabbit glanced up at Nick to see the most angry neutral face he had ever seen. He shrugged.
Nick took a deep breath. “Look, JJ, Zootopia isn’t as big as you think it is. Reputations get around. Especially in the tighter neighborhoods. Little Mound, I’m guessing?”
JJ’s eyes went wide for a moment and he turned back to his work.
“It might be hard if someone like Mama Duke found out you hadn’t treated a girl right.”
“But she’s my great au-” JJ realized a few seconds too late that he should shut up. He glanced at Nick then took the coffee to get the soy and vanilla.
Nick only counted to four. He was feeling generous.
“JJ, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to call Judy, not text, and you’re going to apologize for not talking to her sooner. Then, you will politely but clearly tell her that it was fun but you don’t think the two of you are going anywhere. And you’re going to thank her for two great dates.”
JJ nodded, wide eyed, as he put four pumps of vanilla in the drink.
“And, you’re going to NOT,” Nick nearly shouted the word, “expect a girl to invite you up on the first date from here on. Are we clear? ”
JJ nodded vigorously. He had to steady his hands so he could pour in the soy. He put a lid on the drink, slid on a sleeve and set it on the counter in front of Nick.
“JJ, I’m going to do you one favor.”
The rabbit eyed him nervously. “What’s that?”
“If you call in the next,” he checked his watch, “twenty minutes, you are guaranteed to get her voicemail. That will be acceptable.”
Nick took his drink and walked out. He crossed the street, tossed the drink in a trash bin, and turned and watched the store from behind a lamppost. Eighteen minutes later, he saw JJ call someone. The phone in his right pocket sounded with a cute ringtone for a while, then went silent. He then saw JJ rub his forehead, speak into his own phone for a while, and hang up. The phone in Nick's pocket let out a small ding.
Nick walked the two blocks back to the patrol car, planning how to stuff Judy's phone between the seats.
Yes, it is short and is a change in POV, but this idea was too fun to not include. We'll get back to Judy's POV next time for the DRAMATIC CONCLUSION
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.”
“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.
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.”
Well, that's the end. Thank you everyone for your kudos and comments. A few things before signing off:
First, I welcome critique. You can't get better if you don't get feedback on your work on how to improve. Feel free to leave thoughts on what works for you and what doesn't in the comments. I will read them, though may not reply to every one.
Second, yes it is a short little piece. I'm afraid that's all I have. But don't despair - there are so many other fun reads here on AO3 for this and other fandoms that we won't lack for material.
Third, if you have an idea for your own story you can't get out of your head...get it out of your head and put it down in writing! Create! Add to our creative output. Even if it doesn't seem good, go through the work of creating something. And then, be willing to take the helpful feedback you get and make it better. But, sit down and do the work of making something. Don't just be a consumer - make!
Fourth and finally, I'm finishing this story in the midst of protests across the USA regarding ongoing racism in our country. While this and many other issues facing us are critical to address, I hope that if you found this story and enjoyed it, you take a little respite of light and joy with you. Participation in fandoms and enjoyment of stories and characters (and their ships) shouldn't replace our care for real, living human beings. Don't feel guilty for taking some time to enjoy a story, to get out of yourself for a time, and appreciate what others have created. Many stories reveal things about ourselves and others we need to see. Zootopia, the movie, is one example that is relevant in this moment. However, don't let your love for a story lead you to neglect the things we must do to love our neighbor.