[A/N: An Au in which Judy is a hitchhiker, Nick, a con man. He shouldn't get attached, and yet, he does.]
She's standing by the side of the road with her paw out, one thumb raised, wearing a pink plaid shirt and scuffed-up jeans. Nick notices her immediately because she stands out like the grimy neon sign of some cheap motel, a bright pink dot amidst the hazy, tan desert.
He pulls over his car, a beat-up thing that does what he needs it to. The car comes to a stop in a cloud of sand clouds, and the bunny coughs, waving them aside. She grabs her one small suitcase up from beside her feet, hops into the passenger seat, and they're off.
The desert is hot, the sun a hazy orange, and Nick's car doesn't have air conditioning, so the windows are rolled down. He pulls back onto the interstate highway, and the rabbit squirms excitedly in her seat.
"Where ya' headed, Fluff?" He asks, scanning her over behind sunglasses.
She sighs and does a flippant sort of laugh. "Anywhere."
"I'm headed west."
"Then let's go."
Nick doesn't pick up hitchhikers, or anyone else for that matter. He suddenly realizes that he could now be stuck with this bunny companion for a long time, and the thought makes him cringe a little.
"Whatever," he mutters to himself. Out here, he was probably the best bet she had. She was lucky to not be picked up by some of the scum of the earth Nick had encountered on the road. Not that he was exactly the cleanest guy himself.
"So, what's a cute lil' bunny like you doing out here?" He questions, because as much as he hates to admit it, he's curious.
"Don't call me cute," She says warningly, and throws him a dirty look.
He doesn't apologize, and just eyes her, waiting for her to continue.
She sighs. "I'm…exploring," she says cautiously, voice hesitant with the weight of a secret. "I want to try new things, experience the world, you know?"
He nods. She must be young, he thinks to himself. The last time Nick had that much optimism had been a good 10 or more years ago.
"Well, welcome aboard," he says with faux-grandeur.
The bunny smiles eagerly and squirms in her seat again, her ears just as perky. "I'm Judy, by the way," she says, "Judy Hopps!"
Nick cringes. He doesn't need her name — names turn strangers into friends, and friends into attachments, and the last thing he wants right now is to be attached to a bunny.
But it's already too late. She said it and he won't forget it.
So, cursing under his breath, he mutters, "Nick."
"Nick….?" She asks, leaning in closer to him.
He throws her a glance. "Wilde."
She seems pleased to have extracted this information from him, and sits back in her seat. "Well, Nicholas Wilde, it's a pleasure to be traveling together!"
He laughs a sarcastic huff of a laugh, and drums his fingers over the wheel. "Alright, sweetheart, first off, it's Nick. Secondly, we're not 'traveling together' — I'm giving you a ride. And lastly, when you get to where you wanna go, we part ways, got it?"
She frowns slightly, but nods cooly.
It's a couple of hours later, and the tension has lessened. Judy spent most of the ride peering out the window, seemingly in awe of something as simple as the desert. Then, when that bored her, she got to poking around his car, because of course, why wouldn't she?
That's how she spotted his stash.
"So you're a con man," Judy comments, eyeing the duffle bag of money he has shoved into the backseat.
He smirks at the road, cheeks actually warming a bit. "How'd ya' figure that?"
"Well, judging by the ridiculous amount money in your car, you're either a con man, or a drug dealer."
"Sly bunny," he simply laughs, running a paw through his fur as he pushes his sunglasses onto the top of his head.
"Are you on the run?" She asks in a whisper, looking up at him with a dumb, innocent bunny smile. Her eyes are sparkling, and it's as if she's almost pleading with him to say yes, and Nick suddenly realizes that he's probably the biggest adrenaline rush this rabbit has ever gotten in her entire life.
He answers her question with his own. "Are you?"
She answers simply. "Yes."
The nature of the whole thing makes Nick laugh, and he takes his eyes off the road to glance at her. "Well, that's…damn, Carrots. What'd ya' do, rob a bank?"
"No!" She says, blushing. "It's nothing like that…I just wanted to get away. I'm tired of being told what I can and can't do. I need to…" her voice trailed off then, and she turned her attention to the horizon. "I need to do something. Something more."
Nick eyes her again. "You're not a cop, are you, Fluff? Are you going to rat me out?"
She snorts. "No, I'm not." Her face falls slightly then, and she hesitates before saying softly, "I wanted to be."
A bunny cop? Nick had heard of stranger things, he supposed. "What happened?"
The bunny looks out the window, and shakes her head. "Everything."
Nick looks at her curiously, but says nothing.
The car rumbles down the interstate, and dusk begins to fall.
Dinner means a grimy BugBurga drive-thru, and sleeping arrangements mean a motel located less than a minute off the interstate.
"You can have the bed," Nick says, because a suite with two beds was $30 more, and he didn't see the necessity in it.
"You're just going to let me sleep with you?" Judy asks, oblivious to the double-entendre of her question. "What if I'm a murderer?"
"Well, you'd have to be a pretty bad one," Nick snorts, tossing his stuff onto the ratty love seat in the corner, "If you're going to go around asking questions like that."
She blushes slightly, and eyes the small room. "Where will you sleep?"
He shrugs. "The love seat."
"Isn't that uncomfortable?"
"I'm used to the back seat of my car, so, no, no it is not."
She frowns uncertainly, but doesn't protest. As Nick gets himself ready for bed, she washes her face off in the bathroom, and comes out in a pair of pajamas she had stored in her suitcase. She sets the suitcase on a dresser situated across from the bed, and then hops into the sheets.
"Well, goodnight, Nick!" She says cheerily, resting her head against the pillows and falling asleep within minutes.
She must have been exhausted, Nick notes, and he smirks when he starts to hear her snore.
He sits back on the love seat, which is rather uncomfortable, but he'll live with it. He's supposed to be sleeping, but his eyes start scanning the room and somehow land on the small, bunny-sized suitcase on the dresser.
He's…curious, to say the least. Even though he knows he shouldn't care, because caring about something led to getting attached to said something, he can't help himself. He wants to know a little more about the bunny he was currently stuck with.
He carefully tip-toes up from his chair and across the room, stopping at the dresser and running his paws over the metal case.
The sound of cars rushing by on the interstate create a soft rumble through the small room, and Nick double checks that she's truly asleep before carefully zipping her suitcase open.
She doesn't have much — a couple outfits, a toothbrush, a cell phone charger, but what catches his attention most is a white envelope, hidden between a pair of jeans. He glances at the bed again before peeking it open.
Hundreds. He counts about 10 or 11 bills, making her stash somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.
A thought crosses his mind, and he hesitates.
It would be so easy, he thinks, eyeing the stack of cash, to just run. She'd wake up and he'd be a good hundred miles away, free from her and with an extra grand too. A quick and easy hustle.
He considers it, he really does.
But then the bunny shifts in her sleep, and makes a soft sigh, and of course, Nick's conscience comes rising up for the first time in years.
If he screws this bunny over, she wouldn't make it. Not this far away from her family, broke, alone.
Nick may be an asshole, but he's not heartless.
He puts the money back, fixes the contents of the suitcase, and returns to the love seat.
Just don't let her get to you, he tells himself as he drifts off.
It's the hottest day of the summer on record, and Nick is sweltering. The half-functioning radio is playing some old country song that's grating to his ears, but reaching across the dashboard to change the station would require far more effort than he's willing to put out.
"You think you could use some of your con money to fix the AC?" Judy asks desperately. She's seated beside him, fanning herself, gray fur slick with sweat.
"Hey!" he snaps, sweat dripping off his forehead. "Beggars can't be ch—"
He glances over at her, and she's taking her top off.
She's still wearing a white cami underneath, but that doesn't make the sight of her tossing her pink button-up into the backseat any less distracting.
He turns his attention back to the road quickly, because there's no way in hell he's going to let himself check out a rabbit. A significantly younger, naive, deliciously-bare-shouldered rabbit.
He blames his thoughts on the heat.
"Can I change the station?" She asks.
Nick stutters. "W-what?" He winces at the sound of his voice, because it really is ridiculous that at 32 years old, he's getting flustered by a rabbit in a camisole.
She eyes him. "Can I change the radio station? I'm getting tired of country."
He nods quickly. "Do whatever you want, Fluff," he says dismissively. "I don't care." His indifference sounds foreign even to his own ears.
She smiles, and Nick has a flash of regret before she changes it to a pop station. Some old Gazelle song starts playing, and Judy bobs her head along enthusiastically.
She's cute, Nick thinks, as he watches her move along to the beat. A big pain in his ass, maybe, but cute.
He tries to turn his attention back to the road, back to the feeling of the wind rippling his fur, the sweat beaded on his forehead, and the hiss of the desert cicadas beneath the burning sun, but his mind keeps wandering back to the humming bunny in the passenger's seat.
His heart sinks as he realizes he's starting to care about her.
Evenings were spent at grimy gas stations. Nick picks up two cherry popsicles for the heat and a package of cigarettes for his vice.
"Here," he says gruffly, handing the popsicle to her.
She's sitting on the hood of his car with her pink shirt tied around her waist. He's parked the car out by some old lookout post that overlooks the desert valley. Nick!" She beams, taking it from him. "Thanks! How very sweet of you."
He rolls his eyes at her cheap pun, as well as the notion of him being sweet, while she laughs.
The heat has died down slightly, and the cool relief of the popsicles help with that too. They both suck on them for awhile, watching the sun start to set over the horizon, and when Nick finishes his popsicle, he pulls out a cigarette.
"Is my tongue red?" Judy suddenly asks, sticking it out for him to inspect, and Nick has the fleeting desire to put it in his mouth.
He ignores the desire, pulls out his lighter, and smiles. "Extremely."
She laughs and finishes off her popsicle, red tongue darting out to lick the juice off the sides of her mouth.
The sun continues to set while Judy hums along to the radio, which is still playing from inside the car, and Nick smokes.
"Why do you do that?" She asks, raising her knees up to hug them close to her chest.
He eyes her. "Do what?"
She motions to the cigarette. "You know those things will kill you."
He shrugs. "Old habits die hard."
She makes a thoughtful expression as her brow furrows and she chews over his answer. She eyes him curiously though, and Nick can see the question in her face without her even having to ask it.
"You wanna try?" He asks, handing it out to her with a smile.
She blushes. "I shouldn't."
He leans in closer and gives her a playful nudge. "Oh c'mon, Carrots. You said you wanted to do more things! Take a walk on the wild side."
Now it's her turn to roll her eyes at his pun, but that doesn't stop her from taking it from him cockily, slipping it into her small, soft mouth, and taking a long drag. The butt glows red, and she coughs, sending jagged, gray smoke rings into the sky. "How can you stand this stuff?" She asks, shoving it back into his paw. "It's disgusting!"
"The first time's always the hardest," he quips with a wink, and Judy blushes again and eyes him wryly. He slips the cigarette back into his mouth and they both turn their attention to the sky.
Dusk is upon them, and the violet hues of the sunset begin to blend with the indigo of nightfall. Judy squints up at the sky before gasping in excitement and punching him in the arm. "Look!" She says, pointing up at the first star of the night, a white glowing light amidst an array of clouds. "It's the first star! You've gotta make a wish."
Nick eyes her. "I don't wish on stars, Fluff. Not since I was 8."
"Everyone wishes on stars, Nick," she says without a hint of humor in her voice.
There's no point in arguing, really. So he closes his eyes, thinks of things that feel unfulfilled in his life, and winds up with a long list.
He wishes for simplicity.
One night they sleep in the car, because there's no motel for a good hundred miles and Nick is too tired to drive.
"I could drive!" Judy offers eagerly, to which Nick laughs.
They sleep in the back seat, Nick with one paw on his duffle bag and the other around the waist of the bunny curled up on top of him. Her head his tucked under his chin, her ears resting on either side of his muzzle, and he can feel the patter of her heartbeat fluttering against his chest. She's snoring, actually snoring, and it's a tiny little sound that threatens to make Nick feel something.
There are worse ways to sleep, he decides.
There are worse ways to wake up too, he adds, because the next morning, even when his back is sore, the sun is far too bright, and the air is hot, she's smiling down at him and is looking more tempting and inviting than a tropical oasis in the driest of deserts.
"Ready to go, Slick?" She asks, giving him a gentle nudge.
Nick has to look away, reminding himself that he doesn't care about this bunny, he doesn'tneed this bunny, this bunny could walk out on him right now and he wouldn't give a single damn because she didn't get to him, no one did. "Yeah." He pauses. "Did you…uh…sleep well?"
"No. You snore like an elephant in heat," Judy smirks, climbing off of him and hopping into the passenger's seat.
"Spoiler alert, Fluff," he smirks back, leaning his muzzle close to hers. "So do you." He dares to bop their noses together playfully, and she bursts into giggles. They make eye contact, and for a split second, Nick allows himself to imagine what it'd feel like to fall for this bunny.
It's not that bad.
Midnight at some dingy truck stop. There's one lamppost lighting the outdoors of the small building, leaving everything else lurking in dark shadows.
"Don't wander," Nick tells her before getting out of the car.
She nods and smiles at him. "Don't worry Slick, I'll keep your drug money safe," she teases.
He snorts and eyes her wryly.
Nick should have known she wouldn't listen though.
He comes back from the restroom, and she's not in the car. The money is though, which oddly doesn't provide him the relief he needs right now.
"Carrots?" He calls out, searching the rest of the car.
His heart lurches as he starts scanning the parking lot, never more grateful for his night vision. "JUDY?!"
Nick runs to the other side of the truck stop and finally spots her several feet away, pressed up against a vending machine, a burly leopard leaning over her. The leopard has one paw on her wrist as she squirms frantically, and from what Nick can see, he isn't letting her go.
His heart lurches again. "CARROTS!"
Nick's outburst causes the leopard to pause and glance over his shoulder, giving Judy enough time to twist the leopard's wrist, jump free, and kick him right in the jaw. The kick is enough to send him spiraling to the ground, not without knocking his head on the vending machine on the way down. The blow echoes throughout the dark parking lot, and he crumples up on the ground, completely knocked out.
Nick's shocked, to the least, but he sets it aside for now and dashes to Judy's side.
"What a jerk," she mutters, clutching her wrist with one paw and a chocolate bar in the other.
"What the hell were you thinking?!" Nick snaps.
She flinches at first, eyes wide. She seems taken aback by the sight of him looking so angry, especially with his teeth bared and fur standing on edge, but she keeps her ground, straightens up.
"I just wanted a snack!" Judy snaps right back, waving the chocolate bar in her paw. "I was hungry!"
"You almost got hurt!"
"I think I managed it quite well, actually."
"Yeah, because I showed up!"
She snorts. "Don't give yourself so much credit."
He gapes at her, fuming silently. She's so damn stubborn, and naive, and…and…
…He cares about her. Dangerously so. She's getting to him and the idea terrifies him almost as much as Judy getting hurt does.
"Just…don't do that again," he says gruffly, not looking directly at her.
She stares at him for a long moment, and he briefly fears that she knows how much he cares. "Fine," she finally says, putting her paws on her hips. "I won't."
They walk back to the car, and Nick thanks every deity he can think of that she left things at that.
He thanks too soon.
"It's okay that you were worried about me," she says as he puts the keys into the ignition.
His paw freezes over the keys as the car rumbles to life, and he allows himself to look at her.
He doesn't confirm or deny her statement, instead he just looks at her with a lost sort of feeling in his chest. "Buckle up, Fluff," he mumbles instead, "We're going to be driving 'till morning."
She doesn't say anything after that.
Morning comes, Judy buys him a blueberry muffin, he gets her a carrot muffin, and they sit in the front seats of the car and drink their drive-thru coffee. It's very domestic and Nick knows he should hate it, but he doesn't.
"Sorry about last night," she says to her coffee cup.
"Don't," he cuts her off, and looks at her. His apology goes unspoken.
She smiles at him, her paw somehow finds its way to land over his, and he doesn't pull away.
There's a thunder storm one night, the same night Nick and Judy just happen to be sleeping in the car again.
Nick quickly learns that Judy doesn't like this, not one bit.
She jumps at the lightning, and lands on Nick, who's currently sprawled against the backseat.
"Carrots!" He yelps.
"I'm sorry!" She winces, but the thunder rolls again and she wraps her paws around his neck.
Nick can't help but smirk at her. "Well, well, well. Judith Hopps, fearless in the face of danger, and yet, cowers at a thunderstorm."
"I'm not scared of thunderstorms!" Judy insists as she nudges his leg with her knee, "I'mworried because we're stuck in one with only your death trap of a car for protection!"
He pretends to take great offense. "Excuse me Madam, but my car is not a death trap."
She eyes him. "Yes it is."
"The air conditioning doesn't even work."
There's a flash of lightning, and Nick's paws wrap around her tiny waist. "Just try to get some sleep," he tells her, tilting his head back slightly so his nose isn't nuzzling the top of her head. "The storm will be over before you know it."
"I can't sleep," Judy mumbles, ears drooping. "Tell me a story."
"About you! What was young Nicholas Wilde like? Were you born knowing you wanted to be a con man?"
He shouldn't tell her anything.
He keeps it light, non-personal, but she somehow has a way of silently drawing information out of him and within an hour he's telling this bunny his whole life story, because really, why wouldn't he?
"My dad was a con man too," he says slowly, squinting up at the ceiling. He really shouldn't be telling her this. "Always gone, just stopping by to drop off money, except for the times when he'd bring me along on his cons. I'd help him scam whoever he needed to, and afterwards he'd take me out for ice cream just like we were a normal family."
Judy's looking down at him with wide, violet eyes, and he can practically hear her sympathizing for him.
"Then one day," he continues, looking away from the bunny with the penetrating stare, "He just left. Said he was going to run some errands, or some shit like that. Fast-forward 24 years, and he still hasn't even called."
Judy runs her paw up and down his cheek soothingly. "Oh Nick, that's horrible. I'm so sorry."
He shrugs dismissively. "I've learned to get over it."
"Still," she says gently, "No one deserves to grow up without their dad, especially you."
He snorts and gently pushes her face away. "Alright, that's enough mushiness for one night, Fluff — you're going to make me sick."
Judy giggles softly and darts her tongue out to lick the paw pushing her face. Nick yelps again and gives her a nudge with his free paw.
"You're disgusting," he tells her, which only makes her laugh more.
"You love me," Judy retorts cockily, and bumps their noses together.
Nick swallows back the urge to kiss her, and shakes his head. "You wish."
Breakfast means a diner in a small drive-by town. Nick orders a stack of blueberry pancakes for the both of them, and Judy takes all the whipped cream. He orders her coffee for her because he's heard her do it what feels like a hundred times now, and she rolls her eyes and smiles at him.
She's wearing a purple top that brings out her eyes, and Nick can't help but take what's left of the whipped cream and dash it across her nose. "You look rather cute today, if I do say so myself," he teases, sucking what's left of the cream off his finger.
Judy flicks a straw at him, and tries to look angry (she fails). "Just shut up and eat your pancakes, fox," she smirks, and Nick feigns an innocent look before taking another bite.
Another night in another motel, only this time they're sharing the bed. It's something that started happening after the third or so time of renting a room. Nick had set his duffle bag on the dresser and gone to the love seat, ready for sleep, when Judy had reached out to hold his arm.
"You could sleep with me," she'd offered shyly, once again reminding Nick that he had to teach her to choose her words better. "I don't care what you say, those chairs are uncomfortable, and the bed's big enough to share."
"I'm good," he'd snorted, but she'd tugged on his arm and even whined a little, so he'd given in, something that was becoming a trend with her.
It was supposed to be a one time thing, just to get her to calm down and leave him alone about it, but one time faded into two, and three, and four, and now it's just routine.
It's 1 am, she's curled up against his side, paws gripping as much of his torso as she can, and Nick's trying to ignore how nice it feels.
It's raining, another hard, powerful summer thunderstorm that will likely muddy the desert interstate tomorrow, the room is slightly humid, and the fan is running. One of Nick's cigarettes is cooling in the ash tray on the nightstand, a faint, flickering glow that sends off faint, gray wisps. The shades are drawn over the window, but the neon lights of the motel sign still leak through, illuminating their snuggling forms in flashing bright greens and blues.
Nick knows Judy can't sleep because he can feel her gaze on him and she's not snoring. He shifts under the sheets and turns his head to look down at her.
"Trouble sleeping?" He asks, and he can feel her smile against him.
"Only a little bit," she admits, voice muffled by his chest.
"You know, Carrots, I think you may be becoming a bit of an insomniac."
"And I think you're just a dumb fox," Judy smirks in reply, a lazy paw tracing patterns on his stomach.
"C'mon, you know you love me," Nick teases, shifting again to poke her in her soft belly, but Judy doesn't reply.
Instead, she lifts her head and stares at him, and Nick suddenly wonders if he's said something wrong, crossed a line. It wasn't that weird, was it? She'd said it first, so really, he wasn't being—
That's when she starts kissing him.
He's completely taken aback, and she's quick, so quick he doesn't completely register at first that she's climbing on top of him. She's breathing softly and showering him with tiny little bunny kisses on his forehead, cheeks, nose, and mouth. He can feel her heart picking up speed in her chest, until it feels like it's nearly flying.
It feels strangely incredible.
Her small tongue darts out to taste the side of his muzzle, and Nick can't help but groan under his breath because this bunny always has been and always will be too much for him.
He's never been one to be this slow to the uptake, however, and within seconds, his paws move up to engulf her hips, and he momentarily starts to relish in the feeling of letting her kiss him.
Judy only smiles at him through her lashes and continues peppering him with kisses, working her way down from his muzzle, to his neck, to his torso. Her mischievous paws yank his dark t-shirt over his head with a slightly awkward tug, and she continues her ministrations, much to Nick's alarm and begrudging pleasure.
If only his conscience hadn't picked now to make a reappearance. "W-what the hell are you doing, Carrots?"
"I love you," she breathes in reply, kissing down the front of his chest.
Nick swears under his breath as she tries to move lower, and his paws release her hips to curl into the bedsheets. He has to use every ounce of restraint in him to not enjoy this, because the notion of him enjoying the pleasures of a rabbit is wrong on so many levels, even without throwing love into the mix. He tries to shut her down. "N-no, you don't."
"Yes, I do!" She insists, sounding almost offended. She stops from her kisses to look up at him, brow furrowed and mouth pulled into an adorable pout. "I love you, Nicholas Wilde." She punctuates her declaration with another kiss, practically curling herself around him.
This isn't right, Nick tells himself, even as he gingerly starts to kiss her back. She's much younger, and a rabbit. Prey. His natural enemy. An emotional bunny who got caught up in excitement and adrenaline and confused it for love. He needs to put a stop to this, right now.
But then she straddles him, and starts grinding, because why wouldn't she? She is a bunny by nature, despite the fact that she's quite unlike any other bunny Nick has ever met.
"I want this," she insists. Her scents are going haywire right now, and he allows himself to bury his nose in her neck and take a deep whiff. Judy in response makes a soft humming sound and presses herself closer to him. "You do too, don't you?"
Nick should have said no, but he couldn't bring himself to lie to Judy. "Yes," he breathes, teeth nipping at her neck and earning a delighted squeak out of her.
Judy has a determined glint in her eye as she kisses his cheek and clings to him, grinding her small hips harder against his, and damn it, if Nick isn't enjoying this way more than he should be. "I trust you," she whispers, a sentiment Nick hasn't heard in years.
She shouldn't trust him, and yet, she does.
He kisses her harder, pulls her in closer, all the while reminding himself he shouldn't fall for her.
And yet, he does.