Nick awoke bleary-eyed to the sound of voices creeping down the hall. He stretched out a paw and fumbled with the alarm clock on the nightstand. It took him a few moments to make out what the glowing red numbers said and he wished he hadn't. Who the hell could Judy be talking to at five-thirty in the morning? No reasonable mammal would be up at this hour.
With a pained groan, Nick buried his head under his pillow, willing himself to fall back asleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleeeep… dammit. After several minutes of pillow flipping and repositioning, sleep continued to evade him and Nick resigned himself to an early start. Sitting up and ripping away the sheets, he eyed his pillow and wondered if he could get away with smothering Judy. Actually, better not. She was just stubborn enough to come back and haunt him for the rest of his days.
Fighting back yawns, Nick got out of bed and made his way out into the hallway. The flickering light of the television played along the walls as he walked towards the living room. What the hell was Judy watching at this hour anyway? Infomercials? He knew she got up early to jog, but this was ridiculous.
Nick slunk along the wall, fully intent on sneaking up behind Judy and scaring the carrots out of her. But just as he was about to make his way into the living room, he stopped short at the doorway as he caught sight of his prey. Judy had moved aside the coffee table to make space in front of the T.V where she lay stretched out in the middle of the floor. The anchor in the background droned on with the morning news as Judy dipped low between her legs and touched her toes.
Damn, she's flexible. Nick's short intake of breath didn't go unnoticed as one of Judy's ears twitched back in his direction.
"Nick, you there?" Judy's voice was muffled by the rug.
"Yeah, you caught me," Nick pushed himself away from the doorway with a slight shake of his head. "Is trying to break yourself in half a new favorite pastime?"
"Is leering from the shadows yours?"
Nick shrugged, "Eh, predator."
Judy shifted into another impossible position and Nick dragged his gaze away. "You justify everything that way," she playfully chided.
"Only my bad habits," Nick flopped down on the couch.
"Speaking of bad habits: how about you come jogging with me instead of wearing a groove in the couch."
"Hey - it took me years to make this groove," Nick retorted. "Besides, you're the morning mammal, not me."
Thankfully, Judy straightened up and started stretching her shoulders. "So what are you doing up?"
"Not my choice," Nick sulked. "T.V. woke me up."
Judy winced. "Oooh, sorry. Thought I had it low enough that it wouldn't wake you."
Nick waved her apology away. "Don't worry about it, I'm just not used to having company."
Although, he had been thinking about changing that lately. It's not like he didn't enjoy her company, but he wondered whether or not Judy would be keen on the idea. Of course she'll be; she lives in a shoebox. Figuring it was now or never, Nick gathered his courage and peeled himself away from the couch. He tried not think about how sweltering the room suddenly felt.
"So, uh…" Nick floundered on how to begin as he unconsciously tugged at the tie he wasn't wearing. Instead, his paw caught at the scruff of his throat and he awkwardly raked it over his ears, trying to look casual. "I was thinking… well I mean, we've known each other for quite a while now and uh… and since we're partners and everything, I was wondering if you'd like to move in with me - for real, I mean. Full-time."
Judy's expression was unreadable as she turned to face him. Her paws slowly came up to cover her open mouth as her eyes widened in shock. "But Nick, don't you think this is a little sudden?" her voice trembled pitifully. "We hardly know each other, a-and what will my parents think? A fox and a rabbit sharing a den?" she gasped dramatically as her paw swept up to her forehead. "The scandal!"
Judy fell back to the floor in a mock-faint, oblivious to the fact that Nick's glare should have set her on fire. Her cackling laughter filled the room as he tried to regain his composure. "Think you're real funny don'tcha, Fluff?"
"Well maybe if you didn't make it sound like a proposal," she wiped a tear away from her eye. "It's just - Nick, I just couldn't help myself. I mean, can you blame me?"
She was right, and Nick knew he was being foolish. He was making a big deal out of nothing. This was Judy he was talking about. "Y'know, I'm seriously reconsidering my offer at the moment," he pouted.
"Oh, I didn't know this was a limited-time deal," Judy tossed back as her giggles subsided. "But seriously… let me think about it."
"What's there to think about?" Nick gestured to the living room at large. "This place is amazing!"
"Yeah, it is nice having a kitchen and only sharing a bathroom with one mammal…" Judy rubbed her chin as she scrutinized the room. "Still, gimme a bit of time."
"Well, don't take too long," Nick said. "It's almost the end of the month and I wouldn't want you to pay the rent at your place if you don't have to."
Judy nodded. "So, since you're still up… how about going on that jog with me?"
Nick sighed as he slumped back into the couch. "I dunno, this couch is startin' to feel awfully comfy."
Judy scoffed. "Gee, I don't know how I feel about having a lazy roommate…"
A single eyed peeked open. "Are we seriously doing this?"
"Am I blackmailing you into jogging with me?" Judy grinned at him devilishly. "Yes. Yes I am."
"Wow, look at all these trees!" the tireless demon beside him said oh-so-casually. "How come we've never been here before; is there a park nearby?" she wondered - out loud.
Nick struggled to find the breath to reply. Twenty minutes and more than a few city blocks had passed since they began on their 'light' morning jog. Nick liked to think he was in pretty good shape after the academy, but running with Judy was an education in his deficiencies. He had unwisely allowed her to set the pace after taking it as a challenge when she mentioned slowing it down a bit. Now he was paying the price.
"N-no -" Nick wheezed. "We're just… getting… to the suburbs."
"I didn't know you lived so close to the edge of town," Judy said, and Nick was annoyed at how easily she could carry a conversation at her pace. Nick managed to shrug breathlessly in response and nearly ran into her back as she came to a stop. "We should probably start heading back, but you need to bring me down here sometime. It's nice," Judy kept jogging in place until she caught his eye. "Let's rest for a minute before we turn around."
Nick tried to give her the most grateful look he could manage under the circumstances. He hunched over, paws on his knees, and tried to catch his breath through the stitch at his side. He knew that Judy had only stopped because of him, and gave silent thanks for her small act of mercy. And she'd said that a jog would help make him less tired in the mornings. Ha! Still, he could grudgingly agree with one thing: he was wide awake now.
"Sooo, I'm a little tired now and I think we should take it easy on the way back," Judy stretched her knees at his side.
"Liar," he accused.
"Yeah, well, you're no good to me dead sooo…"
Nick's chest hurt as he let out an odd sound halfway between coughing and laughing. "Okay, fine. You win. I bow to your superior bunny-hopping skills."
She at least had the decency to make the smile she gave him in return look halfway sincere. "Oh, don't worry about it. It's not your fault foxes are lacking in stamina."
"Good thing for you bunnies."
Two of them sat in companionable silence as Nick took in the grey hue of the early morning city. Here and there, the shutters were opening on cafes and storefronts. The streets were quiet except for the occasional car driving past.
"I love seeing the city like this," Judy said at last. "Everything's so... peaceful right now. It reminds me of being back home." Nick brushed the sweat out of his ear and just allowed Judy to fill the silence between them. "Y'know when I was a kit, I used to dream that this city was a paradise where everyone worked together and nothing bad ever happened. Sounds silly now, but when I'm out here like this, I can almost believe it."
"Sounds like a nice dream," Nick commented, surprising himself that he'd actually meant it. "Alright, let's get back. Arthur isn't about to find himself."
The jog back was made at a much more reasonable pace than the one before. In fact, he probably would have kept up pretty easily if he wasn't already exhausted. He fell into step behind her once more as she continued to fawn over the new route. Determined not to reach his place winded, he left the majority of the talking to her. With how enthused she sounded about his neighborhood, Nick had a good feeling that she'd accept his offer to move in.
It wouldn't even be that much of a shift really. They already spent most of their time together anyway, so it wasn't surprising they got along domestically as well. What did surprise Nick was how comfortable he felt about it all. He hadn't shared a place with anyone since his mom died, and yet two days in and they'd already established something of a routine - even if that routine included the occasional morning jog. Hell, who was he kidding? Nick knew this would become a daily occurrence. She'd pester him; he'd offer token resistance before eventually relenting. Nick was glad Judy couldn't see the smile that stole across his face at the thought.
Okay, so maybe Nick liked pressing Judy's buttons every now and then. It was endearingly cute watching her get all worked up. And besides, she gave as good as she got. He tuned out her voice as he recalled the s'mores party last night. Getting a blush out of Carrots was a rare thing, and now he knew her weakness.
Nick's gaze inadvertently dropped to said weakness as Judy's tail bobbed lightly along in front of him. He'd certainly got a reaction by bringing that up. He might have gotten a little carried away with that whole… whatever he did there. Maybe he did get a bit too playful, but damn if it wasn't fun. Distracting predators. Right.
Except, now that Nick had been staring at the bob of her tail for the better part of a few minutes, he found that it really was distracting. Look at it: so light and fluffy like a little ball of cotton. Nick suddenly had the strange compulsion to reach out and touch Judy's tail... or maybe chase it. That would be nice too...
Nick nearly tripped up on his feet as he mentally slapped himself.
The hell was that?
Judy's external musings were cut short as she flashed a concerned look his way. "Nick, are you alright?"
No. No he wasn't. He tried not to look guilty as he stalled, trying to catch his breath. "No, I'm fine. Just ahhh - just caught the edge of the pavement."
"Sure you don't want to walk instead?" she offered.
"Nah, I'm good to go," Nick assured her and, if Judy noticed his extra effort to stay beside her the rest of the way, she made no comment.
If Nick had thought that the Beaumont's mansion had been ostentatious, it had nothing on the lobby of the Beaumont's Cache & Co. bank. The massive arched ceiling of the interior was enough to make him feel even smaller than usual. Everything was marble, satin, or some kind of wood that was far too expensive for him to recognize. Nick tried his hardest not to touch anything that looked like it was worth more than his car. Which was everything.
"This is excessive," Judy marveled lowly at his shoulder as they walked towards the front desk.
"Well, excessive is in the eye of the beholder," Nick whispered back. "If your name was on the building of the second largest banking institution in the world, then I'm sure you could come up with the pocket change."
"Yeah, being rich sure is expensive," she mumbled.
Normally, Nick would've had a perfect comeback to that, but ever since their jog he'd been feeling off. Actually, 'feeling off' was putting it mildly. Ever since he'd caught himself ogling his partner, he'd been struggling with a rising feeling of paranoia. Nick Wilde did not ogle rabbits; he didn't ogle anything other than the occasional vixen. So what the hell had happened this morning?
Nick wrestled with his thoughts as they approached the front desk. The crescent of the reception desk was just low enough to lean against as he waited to garner the secretary's attention. It had to be the case, he reasoned. All this recent talk of interspeciesism was getting to him and turning him into a deviant. Still, only one way to find out.
The secretary smiled briefly down at them past the phone at her ear, a silent plea for patience, and Nick forced himself to give her the ol' once over. She was a zebra, and an attractive one at that. He scrutinized her outfit, and while he could give her kudos for not wearing something that clashed horribly with her stripes - which must've been difficult - he couldn't say she was doing it for him. Maybe it was the size difference.
Looking around for someone that wouldn't break him, he caught sight of the neighboring secretary. A stoat, perfect. Her giant hoop earrings were off-putting, but everything else seemed to be in the right place. Still, Nick couldn't exactly picture himself picturing her naked. Searching through the rest of the crowd, none of the mammals around were doing it for him. Instead of the sense of relief this should have brought him, a new and terrifying chill set his fur on end: what if he was only into rabbits?
"Welcome to Beaumont's Cache and Company, how can I help you today?" the secretary tore Nick away from his spiralling thoughts.
"Hi, we're here to see Charles Beaumont - but we don't have an appointment. Sorry," Judy added with a grimace.
Nick could tell that if the secretary didn't fear for her job, she would have rolled her eyes at them. "I'm sorry, but Mr. Beaumont is an incredibly busy mammal," the secretary said with a hint of condescension. "If you'd like to make an appointment, I'm happy to take your name under consideration."
Nick's nerves were far too frayed for patience right now. He pulled out his badge and pushed it across the desk. "Well, if Mr. Beaumont could make the time, the ZPD would very much like to talk to him about his son."
To her credit, the secretary's smile faltered for only a moment. They must pay really well here. "If you could follow me upstairs to our waiting area, I'll see what I can do."
Nick put on his most charming smile. "Thanks, we'll do that."
The secretary circled the desk and gestured for them to follow. Her heels clicked on the marble floor all the way to the elevators, and Nick took back his earlier praise of her sense of style. Heels? Who did she think she was - Gazelle? The popstar might have made heels a thing, but that didn't make it any less ridiculous to see them in everyday wear. As the elevator doors closed behind them, Nick caught Judy pointedly staring at them and tried not to laugh.
The ride was made in complete silence, broken only by the ding of each passing floor. The doors opened onto the most posh waiting room Nick had ever seen in his life. It felt more like a smoking lounge than a waiting room. There was even a self-serve bar dominating a corner of the room.
"Please take a seat," the secretary nodded towards the couches arranged around a central table. "Someone will be along for you shortly. In the meantime, feel free to help yourselves to some refreshments."
Taking a seat on the couch, Nick shot an appreciative glance at the bar and wondered if Judy would scold him for drinking on the job. After all, he figured he'd never get another chance to sample anything so fine again. Normally, he would've gone for it just to get a reaction out of her, but right now he still felt too awkward to bother. The last thing Nick wanted right now was to give Judy any reason to focus more on his behavior.
"Did you see those heels?" Judy whispered to him as soon as their escort disappeared down the hallway.
Worried that anything he might say would betray his inner turmoil, Nick settled for a non-committal, "Yep."
"Y'know, I get that Gazelle made wearing shoes a fashion statement, but it still looks really weird," Judy echoed Nick's earlier thoughts.
"Yep," Nick agreed.
If Judy noticed his shortness, she didn't show it. Instead, she continued on their one-sided conversation about the strangeness of modern fashion trends like wigs and tail extensions. Nick only half-listened as his thoughts kept drifting back to his earlier test. What if he really was into rabbits? He couldn't help but blame this whole existential crisis on Judy. If she hadn't made him go jogging with her today, then none of this would have happened. In fact, he was probably just blowing this out of proportion and wasn't attracted to rabbits at all.
Nick surreptitiously checked Judy out under the guise of following her conversation. Her ears were too long, and expressive to the point of distraction. Her features seemed to scrunch inward towards the pink button of her nose, topped by pair of almost comically large eyes. On the whole, she looked typical for her species. Nick guessed that Judy looked good as far as bunnies were concerned, but it wasn't exactly driving him wild. His whole reaction this morning was probably just a fluke.
So why was he getting so bent out of shape over it?
Nick was forced to tuck away that thought for later inspection as Charles Beaumont ducked through the doorway. His chestnut fur was flecked with grey, the lines around his eyes were deeper, and his rack had a few more points than Arthur's, but other than that, Charles was the spitting image of his son aged up a few decades. The suit was definitely familiar though; Nick had seen its like in the dozens of photos that lined the Beaumont's trophy hall.
"Good morning officers, I understand you'd like to talk to me about Arthur?" Charles said in greeting. "I was hoping we could take this conversation into my office."
"Of course," Judy nodded up at him.
Nick was glad to adopt his professional facade as he followed Charles down the hallway to his office. All thoughts about Judy and her tail fled his mind as he was once again left to focus on the case. Charles waved them inside and Nick was treated to the most expensive view of the city ambition and money could buy. The city spread out from beyond the the floor to ceiling windows, the view completely unobstructed by the less impressive buildings that surrounded them. Tundratown and the Rainforest District clashed into a sloping mountain range, giving way to the Meadowlands along the north edge of the city, and Nick imagined that if he pressed against the glass he'd be able to make out the tiny pinpricks of mammals milling about on the streets below.
Of course, Charles' desk faced away from the window and Nick couldn't imagine living a life where a view like that was so commonplace that you chose to ignore it. As Nick seated himself, he glanced around the office and was surprised to find how spartan it was. Given the waiting room, he'd been expecting something a little more... extravagant. Instead, aside from a small bar and the typical office furnishings, the room was mostly bare. The only personal decoration to be found in the whole office was a small picture of Charles' family perched next to his computer. Still, at least the chairs were nice.
Judy hopped up to share his seat, and Nick's professional mask faltered as he wondered if this was typical of her. No - wait - yes: she always did this. Nothing was different. This was normal.
The snap of the door behind him brought Nick back to reality. Charles seated himself heavily at his desk with a tug of his tie and said, "I take it that since the two of you are here, and Arthur is not, that you still haven't found my son."
Well, damn. That was a little more direct that Nick had been expecting. He cut a glance at Judy to find that her ears had dropped flat against her head. "W-well, no," she said. "Not yet. But, we were hoping you could help us."
"I've already told Chief Bogo everything I know," Charles said. "That was four days ago. My son has been missing for five, and I would hope that the ZPD's finest might do something more efficient with their time than coming here to ask me more questions."
Nick could tell by the way Judy's gaze dropped away to her pen and notepad that she was trying to keep her cool. "We're doing everything we can, sir," she said evenly.
Nick was about to work on damage control, but Charles relented as he slumped heavily against his seat. "I apologize," he sighed as he rubbed at the bridge of his snout. "The last few days has been difficult for Patricia and I. Trying to pretend that everything is alright while our son is missing has been hard for the both of us."
Nick didn't envy him. Being a cop often left you seeing the worst side of mammals - and not just the criminals. Officers were constantly left dealing with the fear, anger, and grief of the very mammals they were trying to help. It was often the case that he and Judy took on the role of counselors whether they wanted to or not. It could get get emotionally draining at times. There were days when Nick wanted nothing more than to go home, slip beneath the covers, and let the world take care of itself for a while.
"We understand, but we're not here just to interview you again," Nick said. "My partner and I found a set of numbers in Arthur's phone records and we think they might be account numbers. It looks like he emailed these numbers to himself a few days before his disappearance and they could be relevant."
Judy pulled out the sheet of numbers from her notepad and slid it across the desk. "Do you know what Arthur was doing at work for the last few days?"
Charles took the piece of paper and looked it over for a few moments, his face betraying nothing. "You say my son sent these to himself?"
"That's how it looks." Judy's choice of words was careful, and with good reason. Charles' posture took on a guarded air as he carefully set the paper down.
"Well, I can tell you they're not account numbers," Charles said. "They're transaction numbers. The first three numbers represent the routing numbers of our different branches."
There was a short beat a silence until Nick prompted, "And…?"
"And that's all I can say," Charles sighed. "You have to understand that this institution handles millions of financial transactions every day from around the globe. Regulations require that we cooperate with federal investigations, but they also require a federal warrant. Our clients expect a certain measure of privacy when they do business with us, so you can see how my hooves are tied on the matter."
"I don't understand," Judy said. "If you're trying to protect your son, then help us. Arthur might not have the time for us to get a warrant - and that's assuming we can even get one."
"I mean, c'mon, you own the bank," Nick gestured around the room at large. "You telling me you can't bend the rules for your own son?"
"I'm well aware of that," Charles said tersely. "But I have a responsibility to this company as well as the law. I'm sure the two of you can understand that."
"We understand," Judy deflated. "Well, I guess we'll stay in touch and -"
Charles calmly stood up and checked his pocket watch. "I'm sorry I couldn't be more help, but I've got an important lunch meeting to attend. I'll be back in… let's say, forty-five minutes? I trust I can leave my computer signed in while I'm away." As he reached the door to his office, he stopped for a moment to add, "Oh, and one more thing: while I can't be held responsible for your actions while I'm gone, if any of this sees the inside of a courtroom, I'll be forced to file a misconduct suit against the ZPD that will ensure you two can't even get a job as a rent-a-cops. Understood?"
Nick didn't have to be a genius to understand what was going on, or how illegal it was. Not that he really cared. "Perfectly."
"Thank you," Judy said.
Charles paused momentarily in the doorway, "Just find my son." He slipped through the doorway and the door snapped closed behind him.
"C'mon, we don't have a lot of time." Judy hopped out of the chair and circled the desk. Nick perched on the chair next to her as she flattened out the list of numbers and started punching them into the keyboard. "Here, you play secretary for me," she added as she handed Nick her trusty carrot-pen and notepad.
The first transaction on the query showed a sizeable withdrawal and Nick whistled at the number. "Wow, that's a lot of money. You ever take forty grand out at once?"
"Focus, Nick," Judy reminded him. "Just write down the account number, the date, and the location for all these withdrawals."
Several tense minutes passed as they worked down the list of numbers, Nick worrying that a janitor or a real secretary would catch them at any moment. Then again, you'd have to be crazy to walk into the president's office unannounced during business hours.
"Y'know, I think I'm noticing a pattern here," Nick muttered.
Judy's ear twitched in his direction as she typed in the last string of numbers. "Aside from the fact that they're all withdrawing the same amount?"
"That, plus the accounts and which branches the withdrawals are coming from are starting to repeat," Nick pointed out. "I think we're dealing with the same couple dozen mammals here."
"Do you think Arthur was involved with some sort of embezzlement ring?"
"Nah, the whole point of embezzlement is to hide the fact that you're taking money and this seems pretty straight forward," Nick said. "Besides, I don't think Arthur was hurting for cash."
Judy frowned at the screen. "So you think he found out about something he wasn't supposed to?"
Nick looked up to jot down the information of the last transaction and shrugged. "Probably. He was trying pretty hard to keep anyone else from finding out what he knew."
"That's all of them," Judy said as her finger hovered over the computer's power switch. "Should I shut it off? I don't know the protocol when it comes to illegally snooping in someone's computer."
"Leave it on." Nick handed Judy back her notepad. "Something tells me that Charles will want to see this too."
Nick was starved by the time they arrived back at his apartment. Driving through the afternoon traffic had been especially difficult considering he would've normally pulled into the drive-through of any number of fast food places, but Judy had chided him for even suggesting it. As it was, Nick sat at his coffee table trying to distract himself from his growling stomach by organizing all the information he'd written down earlier onto color coded sticky notes. He'd been forced to double up on colors after he'd run out, but Nick now found himself staring at twenty-three separate rows representing the different accounts. He could just make out Judy humming from the kitchen cooking something - probably healthy.
"Do you want any help in there?" he called towards the kitchen, anxious to have at least some small amount of influence over what he was eating this afternoon. "Y'know, believe it or not: I can cook too."
"No you can't!" she laughed back. "Quick fix food isn't cooking."
She had him there. Nick turned his attention back to the table and tried once again to ignore the pangs of hunger in his stomach. The problem was: there was nothing there to distract him. All his notes were organized and nothing else seemed to jump out at him. Everything was routine: the accounts, the locations, even the dates… actually, now that Nick had all the sticky notes lined up, it kind of looked like a calendar. It seemed like all the accounts made a withdrawal every two weeks, alternating every other week without fail. Grabbing a stack of notes, Nick made his way into the kitchen to show Judy. She might take pity on him and reward him with something that wasn't a vegetable.
"Hey Carrots, take a look at this," Nick said as Judy looked up from chopping up her namesake. "I think I figured out the system behind these whole withdrawal things."
"Great, lay it on me. Kinda busy at the moment," she said and unloaded a cutting board full of vegetables into the stew.
"So it looks like the random withdrawal dates weren't random at all," Nick explained as he stole a piece of celery over her shoulder.
Judy pointed her knife at him and narrowed her eyes dangerously. "Hey - you can wait til it's done or I'll be adding fox to this."
Nick crunched as loudly as he could into the celery. "I'm sure I'd taste delicious."
It felt like things were starting to go back to normal between them. Nick's momentary lapse of sanity seemed to be just that: momentary, and he was all too ready to forget it had ever happened. He leaned easily against the kitchen countertop and continued on.
"As I was saying, the withdrawal dates on the accounts run on a bi-weekly schedule," he said. "So, I'm thinking we stake out one of these banks and see who walks out with a suitcase full of cash."
"Good idea," Judy said and paused briefly dip a spoon into the stew for a taste test. "Hmm. One problem though: how do we figure out which mammal with the cash is the one we want? It is a bank after all."
She had a point there.
"Uhh, okay, hadn't thought that far ahead yet," Nick admitted.
Judy stirred the stew idly for a few moments until her ears suddenly perked up. "Okay, I got it: we can use the Bank Secrecy Act. If we tell the bank manager that we're looking into a money laundering case, they're required by law to assist us," Judy smirked up at him. "We'll inform the bank that our suspect will be coming in that day to withdraw forty grand, and the bank tips us off when they leave."
"And we're going to do this without a warrant hooow?" Nick prompted.
Judy shrugged, "We're not, Bogo will - he's way more intimidating. He'll call for his usual progress report in a few hours and we can ask him then."
Nick wasn't about to argue that. If anyone could put the fear of god into a bank manager, it was Bogo. "Okay, sounds like a plan. Now… when do we eat?"
"Never figured you'd be so eager to eat carrots," Judy teased.
"Yeah, well, I can always dig those out."
"You will not," she threatened with the tasting spoon this time, broth flicking him in the face. "In fact, I think I'll be adding carrots to all your meals from now on."
Nick laughed, equal parts amused and intimidated. Judy took her cooking a little too seriously for his liking. "Is that so?"
Instantly the spoon was gone and she was back to being all smiles, "Yup, I've decided to move in."
"You have?" Nick barely managed to refrain from squeaking out. He had nearly forgotten about his offer. After his near panic attack at the bank, it kind of slipped his mind. He wasn't entirely sure if he was ready to deal with the prospect of being around Judy all the time after 'The Incident' this morning. Of course you are. That's why you asked her. What are you worrying about? This is what you wanted. "That's ahhh… that's great!"
Judy's smile faltered at his hesitation, and Nick internally winced. "Hey, are you sure you're okay with this? You've been acting a little weird today, so if you're uncomfortable with it, I'll understand if you've changed your mind. I don't have to move in - it's fine."
Nick had never given a girl the whole 'it's not you, it's me' speech and he'd be damned if he was about to now. "Nah, it's fine. I wouldn't ask if I didn't mean it. I'm just a little jittery today, that's all." He waited with baited breath, hoping she'd buy his weak excuse.
Several intense heartbeats passed before she finally tsked, "I told you drinking coffee after a jog was a bad idea. So, I was thinking after we eat, we can head over to my place and pick up the rest of my stuff. It can all fit in a couple of boxes, so it'll be easy."
"That sounds great," he agreed, and did his best to believe it. He didn't have to try hard. "So… about that food?"
"Out of the kitchen, I'm tired of your backseat cooking," Judy shooed him off.
Nick relented, knowing when he was beaten. With an exaggerated groan of hunger, he slunk off to set the table. When that failed to distract him for more than a minute, he retired to his seat, content to amuse himself by watching Judy cook. He was struck with how different is was seeing her in this position. This wasn't 'Judy the tough as nails police officer', or even 'Judy the friend he watched cheesy noir with'. This was 'Judy the farm girl that loves cooking and is flexible enough to make a cat jealous'. It surprised Nick how well this new facet of her seemed to fit with the rest.
He wondered if she ever looked at him and thought the same.
Nick knew he'd changed since they first met, but he was amazed at how different he was with her around. When he was with Judy, he found it hard to care about what the rest of the world thought of him because she believed in him. And the craziest thing of all was that that belief actually made him a better mammal. And it wasn't because she tried to make him, but rather because he found himself trying to live up to it. Nick should have bothered by how much of his life was built around her, but he just didn't seem to mind.
As Nick drifted out of his thoughts, he realized that he'd been staring at Judy with a stupid grin on his face for the better part of a few minutes. He was lucky she was too focused on cooking to pay any attention to him because he was back to doing that stupid thing he'd done this morn-
And Nick's thoughts suddenly ground to a halt.
The bottom dropped out of Nick's stomach and his head thunked onto the table because everything finally made perfect sense to him. He knew exactly what was wrong with him, even if he wished he didn't.
A/N: Heyo. We'd like to tell you a fabulous tale about how were were abducted by aliens and had to stop a plot to kill the president while simultaneously quenching the flames of a burning orphanage... but that would be lying, and lying is wrong. We were just off doing other things. The fact is: it's summer, and we're taking our time to enjoy it. We'd say we're sorry… but that too would be lying. If it makes you feel any better, one of us got a wicked tan.
Anyways, our next update will hopefully come sooner. Until then, thanks for all the support and feedback.