It hits her like a brick.
They are on a case together and Nick is talking up one of the witnesses, a pretty little thing with bright blue eyes and clean, white fur. Her voice is as svelte as her figure and face and she knows it, judging by the way she’s batting her lashes at Nick, who’s smiling his usual, lazy smile and maintaining a professional distance that this coy little mammal insists on breeching.
It is in that feeling– the tightness between her ribcage– that Judy knows.
When the girl sidles up to his side and slips her arms around his, Nick smoothly slides out of the vixen’s embrace, draping an arm on top of Hopp’s head instead. Judy feels pure relief wash through her, visibly deflating as if the weight of jealousy has literally been resting on her shoulders.
It is in the way her heart beats when their eyes meet– that bright, bright green, like her family farm in the Spring, mottled with warmer gold’s and electric flecks of yellow– two times her usual rapid pace. Her breath quickens. Her face flushes.
It is in the timbre of his voice– “You good, Carrots?”– smooth and warm. Every syllable wrapped in something comfortable and familiar, the same feeling she gets when she visits home in the fall and they roast marshmallows by a bonfire, or when all 275 of them gather in the living room in winter and curl into each other with mugs of hot chocolate in their paws.
“I’m good. We’re good.” She squeaks back.
When Natalie– Judy’s pretty sure that’s her name, at least– leaves, Nick’s paw drops from her head. But not before accidentally brushing down between her ears and the back of her head and between her shoulder blades, and Judy shivers. She swallows.
She is in love with Nick Wilde.
Suddenly, everything has changed.
She wonders what Nick thinks of her in her uniform. She wonders if her sweatpants are too casual. She wonders if the way she eats is attractive, but peas and carrots, it’s freaking takeout, who cares?!
She wonders if he notices the way she rambles in front of him now, or how she struggles to make eye contact with him without her entire face bursting into flames. Can he hear her heart? Can he see it in her mouth when she talks to him? Can he see it on her sleeve?
But he’s all easy smiles and clever quips. He’s all, “Here’s your usual, fluff,” in the mornings, waiting outside her apartment door like he belongs there, steaming styrofoam cup of her favorite brew. He’s all sunglasses and quirky, floral shirts and unbuttoned collars and loose ties, or he’s neatly pressed, heavily-loved and cherished uniforms with gleaming tie bars and shiny badges, sunglasses balanced precisely at his ears. He’s all auburn fur that smells just a little like the fresh, loamy soil her dad lays down every year.
Nick is home.
And when they sit next to each other on his couch or her bed and watch whatever movie, it takes everything in her not to climb into his lap and press her face into his chest and just inhale. It takes everything in her to drag her gaze away from Spring green eyes, lush with life. She spends all her strength on making sure she doesn’t reply too slowly when he talks to her because she’s so busy reveling in how he sounds.
When she finds out her neighbor has died– the kind granny who use to babysit her and let her pick the blueberries from her bushes (Nick’s even met her) and then bake them into pies for her, who used to sneakily hand her candies Sunday mornings at church when her mother couldn’t see– Judy cries and cries and cries in Nick’s arms. He is soft and warm and he speaks to her just as softly and kindly as he holds her. And as nice as it feels and sounds, she cries harder, because it reminds her so much of how Ms. Tailor use to talk to her when she scraped her knees.
She goes to sleep, eyes red and swollen and Nick curled in on himself, his back to her as he accompanies her for the night. They are crammed onto her tiny, tiny, tiny cot, and suddenly, Judy feels that every look, every touch, every word is just too much. She wants to take him in forever, drink in his funny little comments and those fond looks he gives her, fill herself to the brim with his affection and attention, care and concern. These moments replay in her head at night, and she can barely sleep, and oh god, Nick Wilde will be the death of her.
They are out, walking around a nearby park, ice cream cones in hand while Nick details Finnick’s latest conquest. Judy catches bits and pieces, but doesn’t really hear anything, because the way Nick’s face animates when he talks is amazing, and she’s trying to commit it to memory.
She does, however, catch it when he says suddenly, completely out of the blue, no warning whatsoever, as if purposely to derail her: “I love you, Carrots.” He doesn’t even look at her, face completely neutral as he looks ahead into the sky and then brings his attention to his sugar cone, spinning it around by its tip with his fingers, examining it. He says it the way someone might say that the sky is blue, or that the weather is very nice today.
Judy doesn’t know why he says it or what it means or how he means it, but she replies without a moments hesitation. “Love you, too, Nick!” She beams up at him, the sheer joy of just being with him practically dripping from her ears. Nick smiles his characteristic, slow, smug smile back at her.
Casual. Casual. They are nothing if not casual.
But her heart is beating a mile a minute, and she’s certain he has no idea. Absolutely no idea.
They are on a case together, tracking down a big shot bad boy. His house is as big as his name, and Judy has no idea how nobody has known about this place until now.
But the size of the house is lost on Judy and Nick as they stand in a cramped supply closet that is conveniently right where the meeting of criminals is being held. Judy is pressed up against the wall, the pads of her paws cold against the damp stone, one ear straight up and flat against the barrier as she listens intently, the other ear drooped down her back. It is only when she is working in the heat of the moment that she is completely oblivious to Nick, despite the fact that his entire body curls around Judy like a comma because he is stooping to fit into this tight space. His tail occasionally flicks against her, and his chest brushes against her at each slow rise and fall of breath.
Judy turns, opening her mouth to whisper what she’s just heard, but the words catch in her throat when she sees how close Nick is. Her snout is just centimeters from his, and his warm breath fans across her face. His eyes stare straight into hers, and even in the dark, they shine. And there it is: that ever present smell, subtle and stealthy and earthy. She wants to inhale it in deeply, completely submerse herself in it, but he is so close that she can barely breathe as it is.
Then, for a second, his eyes flicker away from hers. It’s just a second, but she sees them dart to her mouth and then back up.
Suddenly, she wonders what it would be like to kiss Nick Wilde. And, in a fit of insanity, she brings herself up to her tip toes and presses her mouth to his.
She may regret this for the rest of her life– at the very least, she’s certain there will be dire consequences, judging by the intensity of the fireworks going off in her head. But Judy is sure they’ll recover, because they’re best friends before anything, and, oh god, maybe she won’t recover, because now she knows what it’s like, and how could she live another day without this?
But she doesn’t need to dwell on that thought any longer– Nick groans into the kiss, and she feels his paws around her waist, squeezing and pulling her flush against him before wrapping himself as fully around her as he can. “Finally,” he mumbles into her mouth. And his voice may be muffled, but she can still tell that it’s several registers deeper and just a little rough around the edges. Her breath catches at the sound of him as he continues kissing her and rumbles from his chest while doing it,
“Took you long enough, fluff.”