[Outside the Box Part 1 of 3]
Nick took a deep breath again, mentally preparing himself for the chat he needed to have with the bunny. He knew it wasn't going to be pretty - she was an ugly crier he found - but this would be good for the both of them.
With the bag of groceries clutched in his paw and his aviators hanging loosely from his crinkled Pawaiian shirt, he steeled himself and walked down the old dirt path towards the little cardboard box.
It was just slightly overcast that evening to where Nick didn't exactly need his sunglasses, but he wondered if he should be wearing them if only to block out the rabbit's stare. Somehow she always managed to catch him off guard with her cute rabbit ways.
Though if she were to hear the 'c' word she'd likely suplex him. She told him about her takedown of a rhino at the academy, and for whatever reason, he believed the crazy rabbit.
Speaking of crazy rabbit, she seemed more so down these past few days than when she started living here a month ago. Though he could understand why; he gripped the bag tighter.
Nick himself didn't believe the news story the moment he heard it.
Apparently, some sheep ram had been going around darting the innocent predators of the city with some nearly untraceable drug; Nighthowlers they called them. He had gotten pretty far along when he had some kind of slip up in the Rainforest District while going after another target.
When his target, a jaguar named Manchas, called the police about a screaming mammal on the premises, it was pretty much downhill from the conspiracy then. The ram - Doug they called him - had fallen from his perch of a branch all the way to the bottom of a ravine. With broken bones and his weapon in his hooves, he pleaded for the cops not to let him die, confessing everything he ever did from attacking predators to stealing candy from a kit. Funny how fear always worked.
If that wasn't enough, while he was being loaded onto a gurney and into an ambulance (screaming bloody murder and crying for his mother as the report said) he received a call from none other than Assistant Mayor Dawn Bellwether who immediately went to asking him if he eliminated the target and if he could 'dart a few more preds to incite fear with the Nighthowlers that were made in abandoned subway car turned lab because she just tipped off the police about the savage mammal he had just hit'. With her blabbing off - and Chief Bogo listening to the call - it wasn't long before the weapon was tested, the lab was searched, and all her accomplices were taken in for their crimes.
All of this was both a relief to the city and the literal worst act of villainy recorded to date. There was even an online Sub-Predit that was packed with theories and general insults to their foiled plan.
Nick chuckled as he remembered one of the best jeers against them was that Dawn may as well have walked around with a briefcase labeled 'Evil Planz Don't Tell Bogo'.
Still, it was too bad that the one cop who could have helped had been fired because she couldn't find her... how did she say it? Sly Fox or something? He couldn't exactly remember.
He did, however, remember that the place she was staying used to be solely his: the old abandoned bridge in a long forgotten factory subdistrict. The lonely little cardboard box situated under the bridge was the newest addition to what was his front lawn. Not that he owned the place or anything as he was technically squatting in the nearby warehouse (which he now shared utilities) but still, it used to be just him.
Nick sighed as he stood in front of the container. The shadow of his ear tips barely touching the 'this way up' label that ironically been pointing down. He didn't even need to ask if she was there, he knew she would be right in the box. And it didn't even take his canid sense of smell to detect her, he just... understood her.
So taking one last mental run through of the conversation he'd be having momentarily, Nick reached into the grocery bag and took out the two lunch wraps he bought from the local grocer. Salmon for him, and veggie for her.
Usually, he had this... well ritual comes to mind, of simply placing whatever food he had on top of the box and letting her decide when she wanted to eat if she was hungry. She kept tidy as he never saw any trash and barely saw her for more than a few hours a day. This time, however, things would be different.
Holding the food and bag in one paw, Nick sauntered over and placed his free paw on top of the box. He didn't think it was appropriate to knock on the sides lest he startle her if she was asleep, so the gentle rapping of his claw against one of the supporting flaps was good enough.
She'll be out any second, he mused, waiting for the bunny to pop her head out of the closed container.
Thought there was a small hole where she had expertly closed the box (for both air and to keep it cozy so she could sleep) Nick couldn't exactly see her.
It wasn't until a few seconds later that he even heard movement. Alright, Nicky. This is it, all you gotta do is-
What he thought to do was smile, hold her paw and try to help her; she was a decent enough friend. What he did, however, was bark in pain and reel his paw back when it (and subsequently him) was dragged partially into the box only to feel a sharp pain on his pads.
Mouth agape and covering his paw with the sandwich wrapper (he was thankful he got them refrigerated) he looked to see if there would be any lasting damage. Aside from a little swelling, he saw no cut. Still, he didn't know what to think.
Did she do that on purpose? he wondered, soothing his aching paw. He hadn't seen her all day so she may have been really hungry. But if that was the case, then it left a better question. "Were you eating the wrappers?!"
There were muffled grumbles coming from the box just as it started to move.
Nick smiled a little, he was never really mad at her, not even from this little mishap. "You know, that's not the ideal way to get fiber in your diet, Carrots."
No sooner had he said his peace did he see a pair of grey ears slowly pop out from the box. Heh... call her name and she shall-
Not giving him time to finish the thought, a rather flustered Judy stood up to see him eye to eye.
One thing that Nick really liked about Judy was the colour of her eyes. Though he never admitted it outright, the dazzling amethyst irises that greeted him every day were nothing short of spectacular. But now she looked... upset?
From the moment he saw her, he could tell her mood. Shoulders lax and pink flannel shirt crumpled, ears down and barely looking anywhere but the ground. Judy was a wreck.
He moved forward to speak, but she shook her head. "Just-" her voice was weak and numb. "Just go away."
She started to slowly re-fold the box to lock herself away again, though Nick had told her before that it wasn't that good of a security measure. But with the state she was currently in, he felt as though that would be belittling the bunny.
"Carrots..." Instead of doing as she requested, he paced his way back over to her, stopping her from making the last fold.
She shot him a glance and tried to weakly shove his paw out of the way. "Nick, I said leave me alone!" her tone was a little louder, but there was still no fight there.
He bit back a huff. Silly rabbit, His train of thought was stopped when she struggled, actually struggled to push him away. He wasn't about to let brood any longer.
"Not gonna happen rabbit," he replied with a smile, reaching into the box and gently wrapping his paw around the doe to drag her out. She immediately became more livid... which wasn't very different from before.
Her faux protest was full of light kicks, simple threats to twist his tail into bunny shapes, and wrestle him into the dirt so she could grow carrots from him.
When Nick sat her down on the hillside next to the bridge, Judy was furious and animated.
Her little nose cutely twitched. "Nick I've told you already. I'm just tired I don't want to be bothered!" They both knew that there was more to it, but as she gave her complaints to the smirking, smug grinning fox, Judy only hoped he would listen for once. "Why won't you- mmpth."
Nick, being among the slyest mammals in Zootopia, had simply nodded to the bleary-eyed doe. She needed to listen, and the only way to get her to do so - in his train of thought as he knew her well enough - was to boop her snout with the veggie wrap. He figured if he tried to force feed her the thing, that she may develop a carnivorous taste for a certain fox.
And after several repeated boops, Judy tore the wrap away and stared daggers at him. Nick only smiled back and sat next to her, unwrapping his sandwich and watching the city go by.
When he took the first bite, she huffed and sat down as well. She never really could out argue Nick, he and his silver spoon always somehow cheered her up. He even took out two bottles of water for the both of them.
Taking a moment to chew and swallow, Nick looked over to his little friend. "So, how was your day?" he asked, singsonging his words as if speaking to a kit.
Judy stopped chewing and placed the wrap carefully on her lap. She stared out into the open, watching the city lights start to turn on. " Misery in a box."
Nick figured as much, but he wouldn't say that to her. She looked miserable enough, and he always had a few words to make things better.
"Huh... I thought you were playing tea party and didn't invite me," he hummed, placing a paw on his chest, quivering his lips and giving her the saddest 'puppy eyes' a fox could muster. "your poor, poor boxless fox roomie."
Judy raised a brow and chuckled as his theatrics were now on the rise. "Neither of us own a room, Nick," she answered, lightly jabbing him in his side.
Surprisingly, even that light tap packed a punch. "Really? I could've sworn that we were sharing and paying rent and utilities."
The doe rolled her eyes, he was just being facetious; another one of his more endearing qualities, she found.
And the thing about Nick was that he had the oddest way of trying to reel anyone into his true motive. "Point is, Judith," Oh here we go, she thought.
"That we are: freelance," Oddly enough, in the time she came here, Nick never, ever once said that she was homeless or truly displaced. It warmed her heart that he cared enough not to berate her for her current situation.
She recalled the day she came to this abandoned place. She found a random box and dragged it under the bridge while falling into emotional and literal squalor just like the fox said. But finding him there hours later after she shed nearly every tear she had showed a lot about him.
He didn't do an 'I told you so' song and dance and shoo her off the property. Instead, he offered her some food and told her that there was a bathroom and shower in the warehouse. Not only that, but he sort of... apologized about the whole thing.
"We have varied income," This made her smile. She didn't have a job anymore and other places in the city weren't hiring.
When she had to leave the ZPD, she had terminate the lease on her crawl space of an apartment because she couldn't sustain it (she had more room now so that was a plus). And with that option gone, she still had to find some way to send money back to help support her family's farm, but she never told them she was essentially broke with only enough in her account to pay her cell phone bill until next month.
Just last week she barely managed to find loose money scattered about to do laundry. Though there were other... less savory jobs around that she refused to take. That one buck regretted his words and advances immediately.
Nick continued, "unique wardrobes and style," And this was relatively true.
Judy had very few clothing items that she had from her single bag that she brought with her. She barely even had a lot of furnishings. It was so little in fact that the small 3X3 cardboard box was enough for her to pseudo decorate. She had a picture of her family, her notepad, her pillow and blanket... a ton of plushies.
Nick was more or less the same. He had furnished the little basement compartment in the warehouse with posters, light fixtures, and some random things he brought along with him. Where he got a record player, mini-fridge, construction tools, and myriad of gaudy Pawaiian shirts was beyond her.
He waggled his eyebrows, waving his sandwich as if he were a sales-mammal about to make it big. "And, lastly, we enjoy the more... shall we says 'simple' eateries in the city." This couldn't be more specific.
The doe had been short on doe since she hadn't been working. She found the city's less expensive restaurants and corner grocers to not be too bad of quality; this was coming from a country bunny. Having learned from her mistake of that last 'Carrots for One', Judy had taken to searching for any available food that was less costly and more so free, though she still refused to dumpster dive.
In all that time, Judy came to find out how... nice Nick really was once she got to know him. True their second encounter ended up with her dream shaken and caused her to wallow in self-loathing. But in the end, he ended up giving her tips and tricks and she even got to see more of the city lately.
Though, at first, she was a little timid around him; avoiding him as she could. He was a fox after all, her supposed natural enemy. Eventually, however, she became a close friend, and Nick helped her out daily. Yet... there was so much more to him than just a deep friendship, and Judy didn't know how to explain it.
"So cheer up, Fluff. It's not all that bad." He finished the last bit of his meal, taking a second to stretch out and yawn before falling back to the grass. Come on, Slick. Just tell her that you-
"Yes it is."
The fox's ears shot up, but he didn't stop staring at the sunset, cloudy sky. It looked like it would rain soon. "Oh?" He knew this would come, she was definitely an ugly crier.
Judy, having eaten a good deal of her wrap had simply rewrapped it for now. She took a deep breath; she was glad Nick was a good listener. "I'm a failure, Nick," she informed, smoothing a paw over her ears. "I'm living in metaphorical and literal squalor under a bridge. I don't have anywhere to go and-"
A few stray tears stung the corner of the bunny's eyes. She sniffled, wanting things to be okay but they simply weren't. And despite her being able to call home, she didn't want to add that burden to her family; her dream of living in the city was hard and nearly unreachable, but not impossible.
She had adopted a 'Try Everything' style, but it wasn't working how it should've. So it looked like she was wrong from the beginning. "You were right. I really am just a dumb bunny."
Upon hearing her soft whimper, Nick minded himself to be careful; this was his chance. He sat up, looked her straight in her eye and nodded. "Nope."
It was confusing to Judy. Usually, when you nod, it's a sign that you're saying you're right or agreeing. Yet here was her fox contradicting himself. "Nope?" she repeated after him.
He shook his head. "Nope."
Judy narrowed her eyes. "Are you gonna start making sense?" Arguably, she knew he wouldn't but gave him the benefit of the doubt.
How wrong she was to try.
He leaned in close, too close, pressing his nose against hers. Cheese and crackers, Nick! What's wrong with-
It wasn't that she was averse to Nick being this close. No, she actually liked that, fox or not. From the few times she felt his fur brush against her, she found him to be rather welcoming and cozy to be around. But this close up made her heart race. It was like staring at a high school crush; though for her she never had one so it was just her first crush.
"No, Carrot Cake. I was wrong." Nick explained, his nose still pressed against her and lightly breathing just enough to ruffle her fur. "Bad start aside, you do have at least one good thing to come out of all this."
Judy felt her ears burn hot. "Oh? And what would that be?"
Being unable to tell if Nick was pulling her leg or not wasn't out of the ordinary. Though she felt he was being genuine with what this could be, she was somewhat skeptical.
Smirking, the renard hopped up to his feet. "Hang on," he said, padding his way down the hill and out of Judy's sight under the bridge.
Curiously, the doe followed him. When she saw his tail ears poking out of the cardboard box, she frustratingly placed a paw on her temples.
Of course, he meant the box, she thought. If there was one thing that she had, it was the small space she called home.
Agitated, Judy tapped her foot against the ground when he finally closed himself in. "Nick, get out of my box please," she warned with both a smile and gripped paw.
All he did was laugh. "Sorry, Carrots. Neither of us own the property." he barked back, angering the doe even more.
She was about to literally jump in the box and tear him out of it when it moved a little.
There was a muffled gasp. "Found it!"
The bunny stared at the container for a moment. Found it? she asked herself. There was only her bedding, pictures, her clothes...
It wasn't very often that Judy blushed or shied away from many things, growing up around thousands of bunnies does that. But the sheer idea of Nick going through her few belongings (and most notably her clothes) made her entire face turn beet red.
"F-found what?" she stammered, hoping that Nick wasn't going to pop out of the box in her shirt or pants... or worse.
There was a pause before another beckon of "Fluff, come over and see." caused her to hop in fear.
Hesitantly, Judy swallowed and reached her paw out to the box of mystery. Nick, I swear if you're wearing anything that I have I'll... I'LL!
She hoped to pry it open and see Nick simply smile at her, but that's not exactly what happened. For Nick popped his head out of the box with his arms raised and a bright beaming smile waiting for her.
Judy's Police Academy training took over and she took a step back, posing defensively as she was prepared to take whatever Nick had and put it back where it belonged.
Yet, when she looked at his paws, they were surprisingly empty.
"TADA!" Nick shouted, his enthusiasm clear and his intent unknown. "It's me, your bestie!"
"My bestie?" the doe repeated. She stared at the comically posed fox for a moment before she realized what was going on, and what he was saying.
He gave her a wink, tapping the box with his paw. "Totes bestie?"
Getting the pun, she couldn't help but smile a little. But it brought out the question, "So what's this actually about, Nick?"
Wanting him to get to the point, and glad that he didn't go through her clothing, she watched him scramble out of the box.
Dusting himself off, he replied, "Well, since I am your best friend in the whole wide world," Judy placed her paws on her hips. She couldn't outright deny it, but she could protest with her body language. "I thought I'd help you with your... financial status."
Again, he didn't say poverty or any word alluding to it. And any opportunity was better than nothing and telling her parents she was just fine when she wasn't.
So with a sigh, Judy regretfully asked, "Alright, Slick, What are you proposing?"
She inwardly groaned at the smug, arrogant grin he was giving her. "Oh, nothing," Instead of giving her a flat answer, he turned to the side and playfully inspected his claws. When he felt like she was on the verge of screaming, he grinned. "I just need an... escort."
The second the words flew from his mouth, Judy couldn't believe what she heard. Sure she was a bunny, and sure bunnies had a reputation for the nightlife, but she wasn't that kind of bunny.
She clutched her paw and grit her teeth. In the blink of an eye - far quicker than Nick could have ever expected - the only thing the fox could see was dirt.
Having successfully tackled the fox to the ground and holding him there by his arm, Judy leaned down, nearly nuzzling his cheek fur. "I. Am. Not. Some. Loose. BUNNY!" she yelled, punctuating each word by bending his arm a little, though not enough to cause real damage.
Had Nick not believed the rhino takedown earlier, he would now. "OW! Okay I get it!" He tapped out, feeling his arm being released and forcefully yanked up. "Bad choice of words, but not close to what I ment." he mumbled, rubbing his sore limb with his paw while the bunny waited for him to say more.
She half expected him to bury himself with his next set of words, but she still gave him a chance to take that back.
Nick cleared his throat. "What I'm saying, my fair lady," He added dramatic flair, taking her paw in his and motioning towards the city. "Is that I need someone to help me with some work."
Work, Judy thought. She had known that Nick was into the business of hustling other mammals, but aside from the first day they met, she never saw him in the line of work again.
Watching his bunny's face contort into some amalgamation of emotion, Nick smiled. "Someone smart, strong," He leaned over to her, softening his expression. "beautiful." She blushed, ears turning red and paws trembling. Nick, however, released her paw and pointed to himself. "But since I can't find another me, I was wondering if you would accompany your poor roomie."
For a long while, Judy stood still in wonder. She had always been on the right side of the law - barring what she did to that buck, though there were thankfully no CCTV's around to witness his bruising - and this would surely jeopardize her record. Not that she had anything against what the fox did, but she just couldn't see herself trying.
She was about to say a flat out 'no' when the sudden realization hit her that without earning something soon, then she'd have to return to the burrows. She couldn't afford to do that- not that she could not not afford to do that either; the Bunnyburrow homestead wasn't too bad, but she wouldn't return in shame.
The trouble, however, was that the illegalities of conning really stuck out to her. Although... Nick did technically obtain his earnings pseudo-legally. He was merely tweaking the system very slightly in order to stay out of complete trouble.
And Judy figured as a last resort, she may as well try it. She did have the 'Try Everything' mentality after all. "Fine."
Nick had fully expected her to say no, saunter off and mope, thus defeating his purpose for being here. She didn't really like the idea of his hustling when they first met, but it was his way of life. So when he heard her reply, his jaw dropped. He didn't really have much to say to follow through.
"Uh... Great!" He looked around, thinking of something, anything to distract him. His eyes landed on the box, and just beyond that, the grey, darkening sky; the gears in his brain turned.
Without notice or warning, the fox picked up the box, nearly falling over from the sudden shift in weight.
This horrified the bunny. "Nick, what are you doing with my box?" Surely he wouldn't just say 'great' and walk away with her housing. Would he? Was this a security deposit? Theft? No, this was Nick, he was too nice to actually steal valuables.
The fox smiled and awkwardly padded his way out from under the bridge. "Packing company said the stuff was fragile, so I'm moving it to a safe spot." He turned to the frustrated bunny and gave her one of the softest, most genuine smiles she had ever seen. "Besides, I can't have my bestie lying on the cold hard, soon to be wet ground can I?"
Wet ground? Judy had been living in a dried ravine of sorts for the past month. There wasn't any indication that there would be water flowing any time- "Oh..."
She stopped on a dime when she heard the clouds rumble, and watched them roll. Yeah, that's rain...
"Oh?" Nick hummed, quickening his pace to the warehouse before a single dewdrop of the heavens would destroy his friend's home.
"Oh!" Judy shouted in response, feeling a single, cool drop of water fall onto her risen ear. She quickly got the idea and followed.
"And they say I'm trouble," Nick said, smirking and hearing the hurried footsteps of the bunny behind him. "Come on, Fluff. You're rooming with me tonight."
So the tod walked off with a box of a home, only to be helped by the paws of a grinning grey doe. Together they carried the weight that neither could bear alone because in a true friend love is shown.
Hey all, I hope you're enjoying the story. There are plenty of bits to come (currently at 120+ prompts and still growing...) That, and more styles to come soon including [Guest] slots for anyone that would like to join. The first [Giveaway] story is up next. So please, if you'd like it, ensure to post a review on Fanfiction, or comment on AO3 or Deviant Art saying that you want it after it's posted. First come, first serve.
And I hope you get a chance to read this and the other stories at your leisure. All can be found here as well:
deviantart: [snippet exclusive]
If you'd like to be part of the collabs, or take a story from the giveaway pile, please let me know the day I post the story. Also, I'll be putting in guest slots on the second set of bits onward.
If you liked this story and have time please post a review, and if you would like to keep up with the story please fav or follow. Questions, comments, concerns, feel free to message me about anything. If you'd like updates, please check the profile page and or message me.
Till Next Time