[A/N]: This has been quite the ride! And it's come to an end...for now. Just as a note, in this au, I imagine the world still looks the same geographically, and the continents and countries are still the same, they just are filled with animals and animal-pun cities.
Nick had never worn a tuxedo before. A suit and tie, yes, but a full on tux? Never. Not that he minded, per say. He actually looked pretty good, as he'd admitted to his reflection upon trying it on. Classy, real spy-like. Except for the bowtie. He'd kept loosening and tightening the stupid thing to a level that was just between casual and unkempt.
He was sitting on stage, at the ZBI headquarters' auditorium. It was smaller than the concert hall, but just as grand. Agents were seated before him in the crowd, all dressed in black or gray, and Nick had to keep reminding himself that he was one of them now. He'd even pinched himself once to make sure he wasn't dreaming (he wasn't).
Judy was there, of course, though Nick only got a view of her back as he sat a few feet behind her. They hadn't gotten a chance to talk yet, the first time he'd seen her was when she'd stepped up to a podium to talk about how proud she was of Agent Wilde, and how happy she was to welcome him to the agency, and how he'd accomplished so much in their time together.
Nick would be lying if he said her praise hadn't made him sit up a little straighter, or smirk with a little more genuineness.
After Judy's speech, she exited the stage and Bogo arrived to present Nick with his badge — which, by the way, was an extremely weird experience, now that Bogo was no longer a 4-foot tall bust on a screen and instead a very, very, very large, full-bodied mammal.
Bogo presented Nick with his ZBI badge and leaned down to shake his paw. Cameras flashed from the crowd and applause thundered all around.
The fox and buffalo both smiled for the photos before Nick craned his neck up to look at him in admiration.
And, of course, slight sarcasm.
"Chief!" the fox smiled, shaking the buffalo's hoof enthusiastically. "So great to see you not behind a screen! Who knew you had legs? And has anyone ever told you that you're much taller in person?"
"Shut your mouth and smile for the audience, Wilde," Bogo said through his teeth, "Before I regret giving you that badge."
"C'mon, you know you wouldn't do that, Chief. You'd miss having me around."
Bogo eyed him, but cocked a half-smile, which gave the answer he and Nick already knew. "Welcome to the team, Wilde."
The ceremony ended soon after that, and moments later, Bogo pulled Nick aside backstage to present him with a crisp manilla folder. "Are you ready for your first case, Agent?" He asked.
Nick stood up straighter. "Lay it on me, Chief. Whaddya got planned? Investigating a trafficking ring in the jungles? Protecting a foreign princess from assassins? Or something with zip-lining — I've always wanted to go zip-lining…"
"How about France?" Bogo said with a sigh, dropping the folder into his paws. "The details are in the file, and I think you can handle it. Agent Hopps trained you in French, correct?"
"Yeah…" Nick opened the folder up and skimmed through it. It definitely looked dangerous, but exciting too. Intrigue, mystery, a poisoned official, an unsolved murder — it was a textbook spy-case, something he should have been thrilled for, and yet —
"Do you think you can handle it?" Bogo asked.
Nick shut the file and nodded seriously. "Yeah. I'll leave first thing in the morning."
He turned to leave, but Bogo stopped him by adding, "There's one more thing, Wilde."
He looked back. "Yes?"
"This mission will be hard, as well as all your subsequent missions. If you'd like, you can request a partner."
The fox paused. "A partner?"
"You can request another agent from the agency to work with you," Bogo explained, "we find that our agents often work better in pairs. They would go on this mission with you, and any others that you'd like. They'd have to agree, of course, and be willing to drop their cases to join yours, as well as assume a joint cover, but you'd get to work as a team on each other's cases, potentially making things a little easier. Of course, some agents prefer to work alone, so you may do so, if you like—"
Nick didn't need to hear any more. "ThanksChiefGottaRun!" He exclaimed, gripping the file in his paw and darting off.
"Wilde!" Bogo snapped, stopping the fox before he left backstage completely.
Nick skidded to a stop and glanced over his shoulder. "Yeah?"
The buffalo glared at him for a moment, and for a second Nick worried that he'd lost his job already, but Bogo sighed and gave him what looked to be the buffalo's equivalent of a smile. "Hopps just left," he said good-naturedly, "If you hurry you might still catch her."
Nick smiled appreciatively. "Thanks, Chief!" He ran out the backstage door and into the crowd of agents still conversing in the seating area. Despite all his training, he wasn't prepared to try to navigate through a crowd of trained agents who were, for the most part, all 4 times his size. But he didn't have time to spare, he had to find Judy before she was gone. He maneuvered slickly and quickly, pausing only to shake paws with the occasional mammal or nod in response to a 'congratulations.'
After what felt like years, he finally made it out of the auditorium and into the hall, which felt so numbingly quiet compared to all the hustle and bustle in the other room. It was a polished-looking corridor with a glossy black tile floor that reflected both the recessed lighting on the ceiling and portraits of accomplished agents on the walls. He looked down both ways, trying to keep his breathing even so he could hear any footsteps, eyes scanning for those adorably long ears…
And then, he spotted her.
She was walking towards the exit at the end of the hall, ears drooping albeit a head held high. Her paw was just resting over the door handle when Nick felt his heart skip a beat and called out, "Carrots!" He ran over to stand behind her, slightly out of breath but not caring because she was here and he still had one final chance.
Her ears perked slightly at his call, and she turned to peek over her shoulder at him with a smile. "Agent Wilde," she said teasingly, turning in full to scan his tuxedo up and down. "You clean up so nicely, I almost didn't recognize you."
"Same for you, Hopps," Nick replied dryly, slipping his paws into the pockets of his pants, "I didn't know you owned any dresses. Ones you didn't use for a cover, anyway."
"Har, har," Judy smirked with an eyeroll. But despite the sly smile and sarcastic laughter, her eyes shone with a proud glint, a happiness for him.
Nick was seeing her from the front, finally, and he now got to fully admire her dress — simple and black, with an open back that'd had him thoroughly distracted during her speech. Nothing too revealing, but enough to make Nick take a second look. And a third. Though admittedly, Judy probably could have been wearing sweatpants and an old t-shirt and Nick still would have found her adorable.
"Where were you going?" Nick asked, motioning his head to the door.
"Oh, that," Judy answered, slightly sheepishly. "I was going to leave."
He raised an eyebrow. "Without saying goodbye?"
She averted her gaze to the ground. "I wanted to, but…I…I thought it would hurt less for both of us if I just left. Rip the bandage off quickly, and all that…"
His heart nearly melted for her. Seeing her all sad and mopey was going to be the death of him. So, Nick smiled gently at her and moved a finger under her chin to lift her gaze to his. "Well, it's a good thing I stopped you, Carrots, because I have an offer for you."
She eyed him, but her curiosity was given away by the slight perk in her ears. "If it involves trying out the Zootopian nightlife, the answer is 'no.'"
"Fair enough," Nick mused, moving his paw to stroke the underside of his jaw slowly in faux-contemplation. "So, ixnay on Zootopia...how about….France?"
Judy's violet eyes widened, and she gave a slightly disbelieving laugh. "France?"
"Bogo gave me my new mission," he explained, handing over the case file to her, "and it looks like a good one."
Judy took the folder from him and looked through it with a faint smile. "Wow..." she admired, looking up at him as she handed it back, "I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun. It'll be an interesting cover, too — you better know the language well."
"Carrots, please, you taught me all that French remember?"
"Do I remember?" Judy looked up at the ceiling as if in deep thought. "No, I don't think I do. The only thing I remember is you answering 'omelette au fromage' to every question I asked you."
"You thought it was funny."
"I thought you were a dumb fox."
"Omelette au fromage, Carrots."
"Stop!" Judy exclaimed, exclamation bubbling into laughter as she leaned in to punch his arm. "You're so dumb! And not funny!"
"And yet, you're laughing," Nick smirked.
Judy giggled more, cheeks flushed a rosy pink. "I am."
And now, the moment of truth. Nick didn't need to hesitate before asking her, he knew what he wanted, and what he needed. Both things started and ended with her, and he wasn't going to leave before putting his heart on the line one last time.
"I want you to come with me," he said.
"Bogo said I can bring a partner on this mission. And any others. I can choose, well, ask who I want. And I want you to come, Fluff."
Judy blinked up at him with wide violet eyes. "You mean, go to France with you? Together? With me?"
"Of course, you, Carrots. Who else is going to have my back in a gunfight? Or pose as my girlfriend when I have to investigate a wine-tasting party?"
"Who says you'll have to go a wine-tasting party?"
"It could happen, it's France. And I'll need a ridiculously attractive bunny by my side, otherwise it would seem weird that a fox as good-looking as myself would be single. It could blow the whole operation if you're not with me."
Judy smiled wryly at him and blushed a little harder. "You have a point. Kind of."
"Please, Carrots," Nick continued, voice dropping to a more serious note this time, "We make a great team, and we both know how we feel about each other. This doesn't have to be goodbye."
She met his gaze, breath catching in her throat. "Nick, I…I want to, I really do. But do you think we're ready for it? For a real relationship?"
"Yes." Nick insisted, closing the space between them and holding onto her paws. "Trust me, Judy. We finally have a chance to just be together, you and me, no lies or covers or awkward pretending-we-don't-like-each-other-ness. All you have to do is close your eyes and say 'yes'."
She didn't say yes.
Instead, she jumped into his arms, flung her paws around his neck, and kissed him. It was a quick and sudden thing, and Nick barely had time to revel in the sensation before she pulled back again with a breathy gasp, face flushed.
"I'm sorry!" She apologized quickly, still holding onto him, "I don't know what came over me, I just really love you and—"
Nick didn't let her finish, and instead pulled her back in a second time, pressing his muzzle closely against hers and kissing her like he'd never get another chance.
Judy was startled at first, but then Nick tilted his head and their muzzles locked into this sort of perfect fit and she melted into his embrace. He rested his paws on her waist, she snaked hers around his neck, and they clung to each other.
The moment was theirs and theirs alone, as well as every second they spent locked together in the polished hall, the long night that would follow in Nick's apartment, the morning spent bundled in sheets, the first-class flight, the mission in France, the rest of their lives. Throughout it all they'd be together as a team, as lovers, as partners, and as best friends.
But there was no way of knowing that now, no way of seeing what tomorrow would behold. They could lose each other tonight or tomorrow or even next week.
So Nick pulled her closer, told her he loved her too, and drank in every one of her sweet hums, the soft taste of her tongue, the feeling of her fur under his paws, and her heartbeat, fluttering in time with his.