Winter of the Bear – Epilogue Part 2, "Our Future"

Five Years Later – ZPD Academy Graduation Ceremony

"Hopps, we can't stall this any longer," warned Bogo, standing near the door out of the room they had been waiting in. "It's now or never."

Judy took a deep breath and checked herself for the hundredth time. Badge and medals in place: Check. No wrinkles: Check. Fur doesn't have anything weird stuck in it: Check. No one stuck gum on my uniform today: Check. Speech…still terrified.

"Okay, chief, let's go," she said, straightening her back and putting her ears up rigidly. "I'm ready."

"I'm not sure I am, but here goes," he replied with a sigh. His hoof remained on the door, without making any effort to open it.

"Which of us is stalling now?" Judy asked, lightly punching Bogo's calf. "It's time."

Bogo snorted, then shoved open the door.

Judy followed a short distance behind him, and together they made their way to the front of the ZPD academy's stage. At their approach, a roar of applause from the graduating cadets and the existing officers and families in the audience became overwhelming, making Judy's ears hurt, the same way it had the previous two times she had been up on that stage. The first had been her own graduation, when she had been filled with excitement for a future she could not have envisioned. The second had been both a gift from the city and a kindness from Bogo, letting her speak to the class Nick was graduating as part of. This time, things were far more somber. The ZPD was losing something memorable, and that put Judy front and center. Much as she wanted to hide or run, this was what she had been trained for.

"Short and sweet," Bogo whispered, as he approached the podium. He stood there several seconds, straightening his posture and waiting for the crowd to quiet down.

Beside him, Judy did her best to look calm and ready for anything that would come. It was not easy, with panic in her heart, but once Bogo's speech was done, it was her turn. She had to be ready, and not curled into the fetal position when that time came. She had family to show off for in the audience.

"Welcome to our newest graduating class," Bogo finally announced, once things were somewhat less noisy, and he had turned on the microphone on the podium. "Today marks a special day for the ZPD. Today, we are back to full staffing for the first time since Rolen came into our city. You are the latest to join our ranks, and stand against the breakdown of law that comes too easily to a city the size of ours. You are those who did not back down from joining the ZPD, no matter what Rolen did to the city.

"As is tradition at these ceremonies, either the chief of police or the mayor will make these speeches, except when we have a particular officer who is so exceptional that they take our place. This year, you have come together today to hear me speak about how hard you have all worked, and the great things you will soon do for the city. Even the pamphlets your families were given list the commencement speech as being given by the chief of police for Zootopia. A month ago, your expectations and reality would have been the same, but times change quickly in this city. That is something you will need to be ready for in the future.

"For a little shy of ten years, I have run the ZPD and done my best to protect this city. When I was sworn into this office, I pledged to fight to protect Zootopia at any personal cost, until such time as someone better came along. There was a time when I believed that meant I would die on the job like my predecessor, long before someone capable enough showed up to take my place. These last few years have proven me wrong.

"Today, I step aside for the next generation. You will serve this city under the finest police chief I can imagine, and that will not be me. Zootopians, as the former police chief, it is my honor to introduce your speaker: the chief of police. Put your paws together for Chief Wilde-Hopps, our city's first rabbit officer, and now the first rabbit police chief."

Maintaining her calm outward appearance, Judy turned and marched up the small steps on the podium, until she reached the top, where she could look out over the audience. Many of those out there were stunned as much by the surprise departure of Bogo as by the fact that a rabbit was taking his place. She had expected as much from the crowd, and gave them a minute to absorb what they had been told, before launching into her speech.

"Cadets," she finally began, once everyone was watching her again, "six years ago, I came to Zootopia to change the world. I saw the city as perfect in every way, waiting to welcome me into my role as an officer. I learned quickly that expectations and reality rarely match. Real life is far harder than our imagination, as I told a class not unlike yours five years ago.

"My belief of what I would find in Zootopia proved how ignorant I was of what might happen shortly after my arrival. Many of you likely have similarly overblown expectations. Our heads are filled with dreams of how we can change the course of history through our work to help others. I know that I dreamt of boldly stopping crime in this city, with a police force at my side. What I didn't dream of was finding the love of my life, starting a family, discovering plots from Dawn Bellwether against the city, and definitely not facing down Rolen Ursius four times, let alone ending his reign of terror over the city with the help of my coworkers and husband. I'm willing to bet many of you have been told dreams are nonsense, and that you should get your heads out of the clouds. Well, I'm here to tell you…you can change the world, one day at a time. It won't be tomorrow, and it won't be the next day, but given enough time and effort, it will happen."

Judy searched the crowd briefly, until she spotted Nick a few rows back in the section reserved for family. Though surrounded by officers in dress uniforms, he was in his street clothes, after having retired almost a year prior. The reasons were bouncing on their chairs and on his lap. Three kits scrambled around tirelessly, their grey fur with red tips catching the midday light as readily as their oversized ears. The media had taken to referring to them as monsters, mutants, miracles, blessings, fabbits, or roxes. What they were called meant far less to Judy, though she leaned toward "fabbit." They were her and Nick's children by blood, and old enough that they had begun teething—often on Nick's tail, which he somehow took with a smile.

Playing with the fabbits were their adopted elder brothers and sisters, Amy, Mike, Seth, Kara, and Mary, now pre-teens. The five had proven themselves stubborn enough to have challenged the CPS's stance in court and won a year prior, allowing them to stay with who they wished, though Nick had helped them with a lot of the paperwork to make that happen. Though they still spent a good deal of time out in Bunnyburrow to be with other bunnies their age, they spent nearly as much time with Nick and Judy in the city.

"We don't always choose the path we expected," Judy went on, turning the smile meant for her family on the rest of the crowd. "What we think is ahead of us rarely is. We will all work to do what is right, and sometimes, we will falter. We will stumble, and we will get back up again. This is what makes us all heroes. Not a momentary good deed. Not wearing a badge, or a suit, or a medal. Not doing what's in a textbook, or what we were told was right. It's choosing to keep working, no matter how hard life becomes, to make that world a better place for others. Our job is often thankless, but do not believe for a second that your struggles and your pain goes unnoticed. Every mammal whose life you touch is made better or worse by our actions."

Judy caught herself in her wording and shifted slightly on the podium, so she could look toward the orange and black flag hanging to one side of the audience, where Katrina and Markus sat, surrounded by bodyguards. Beside them, the delegation of four fox-sized birds from the avian islands sat, watching the ceremony with a constant look of confusion. As she looked, two ravens cocked their heads, eyeing the fresh grass seed nearby with more interest than the speeches. Having only spoken with them a few times, Judy had found their attention spans to be very limited.

"Mammals, birds, or whatever, our lives impact everyone we meet," she corrected, doing her best to sound as though the addition had been planned. "Once, this city looked down on certain mammals, simply because thousands of years ago, they were at odds with one species or another. Now, we have the chance to shape our future in ways we never would have expected. Zootopia was once a sanctuary for every mammal, though we didn't always show it. We treated many like they were lesser, or unwanted. With the population control efforts being made the last few years to bring the numbers of various species back in line with one another, Zootopia is now a true safe haven for every animal, whether scaled, furred, or feathered. Remember that, cadets. This isn't your city, and it never was. This is our city, because we are all in this together. Everyone is under your protection. You do not get to pick and choose. Do right by your kind, my kind, their kind, and no matter what happens, make the city a better place for your time here. Protect everyone, no matter who they are, and you will be a hero.

"Cadets, please rise. You will now receive your assignments."

The next half hour consisted of a blur of cadets marching up to Judy. Each time one came forward, Bogo softly reminded Judy who they were and their assignments. In the future, she would need to remember all of this on her own, but he had wanted to ease the transition as best he could. Helping her get through the ceremony seemed to be as much for him as it was for her. Bogo was already missing the job, even before he was gone.

At long last, the final cadet stepped up to face Judy, and she did not get a prompt from Bogo, nor did she need it. A little taller than Judy, the white fox was unmistakable in her pressed uniform and perfect salute as she came to a stop in front of Judy.

"Officer Skye Wilde," Judy said, taking the badge Bogo offered her. "This will not be an easy road for you. You have a lot to prove and make up for. Wear the badge well." Judy finished pinning the badge to Skye's shirt, then waited a few extra seconds before announcing Skye's post. "You've been assigned to Tundratown."

"S.W.A.T.? Undercover?" Skye asked, hopefully, though her expression remained neutral.

"Parking duty," Judy replied, unable to keep from smiling. "For now. Can't play favorites with my sister-in-law."

Skye smirked, despite the assignment. "I swore an oath to do whatever I could for this city. If that's parking duty, I will be the best meter maid in Zootopia, Chief Wilde-Hopps."

"I expect nothing less, having seen your academy scores," Judy said as sternly as she could manage. Raising one paw to her brow, she saluted Skye. "Dismissed, officer."

Skye hurried off the stage, and down to the waiting crowd of her fellow cadets. They lined up as a group, their attention riveted to Judy in anticipation of the remainder of her speech.

"Protect, serve, and enforce," Judy went on, fully facing the graduating class. "These are the three things you swore to. All too often, enforcement becomes the easiest of the three to look to when judging your own actions. So long as I am chief, I expect that to be the least of your concerns. You, the first class of a new generation, will protect this city like none before you. You will serve its citizens, including those who have begun arriving from the former Ursian lands, and now the Aviary of the islands. These are your wards, no different from your brothers and sisters on the force, or your families outside the job. Zootopia looks to you for help and leadership, when others fail to do so. Rise above mere enforcement, and become the heroes we need. You are our future, cadets. Today, I salute you."

Turning her attention to Bogo, Judy snapped a sharp salute, which he returned. "We now also salute those who have come before, showing us the way to help others, and who have made our jobs easier by their efforts."

A roar of applause for Bogo ripped through both the cadets and the crowd, but Judy was not quite finished. Shifting again on the platform, she faced the families and other onlookers. "I now ask that all retired ZPD please stand."

A dozen rows back in the audience, Wolford stood unsteadily with the help of his wife. The injuries in the line of duty years earlier were still crippling, but he still found the strength to help part-time most weeks.

Farther to Judy's left, Markus stood up among the Ursian delegation, drawing quite a few stares. While the treaty with the Ursians was no longer a surprise to most Zootopians, a remarkable few actually knew that the king—a title Markus hated more than he could put to words, and one Katrina had fought against her people giving—had once been both Zootopian, but also a ZPD officer.

Near the front of the audience, Nick juggled the three youngest kits and managed to stand up on his chair, so he could be seen, too. His retirement had been less noticed by the media, given the lasting issues some had with foxes, but the fact that he had done it to spend his days raising their mixed-species children had definitely not gone unnoticed. In fact, it had been plastered over almost every station and website for several weeks after they were born, though these days there were enough other couples seeking Doctor Tuktu's help in having children with a partner they normally could not have, that the media had mostly forgotten about the Wilde-Hopps family. In a few years, a group of fabbits would not even be surprising anymore.

"We salute all who have come before, and bled for this city," Judy said softly, but the words carried well. All of the cadets saluted the retired officers, and nearly the whole audience cheered or applauded.

Once the cheering had died down, Judy gave a final look over her new cadets. "You are dismissed, officers. Make me proud."

Judy remained where she was, until the crowd and the cadets had largely dispersed. Most moved out onto the nearby field, where there was far more space for everyone. Many guests in the audience went to congratulate the cadets, thinning the audience considerably. This allowed Judy to look out at two ZBI agents sitting on either side of Pearl, who still wore tracking cuff on his ankle, but was being given supervised leave to see his sister graduate. Judy still did not know how he was faring, though John had assured her he was making strong progress.

After the majority of the guests were out of the way, she offered Bogo one last round of thanks, then climbed down from the podium and made her way out into the rows of seats, where Nick, the eight kits, Marian, and John waited for her. Checking over her shoulder, she saw that Skye and Harry were out near the cadets, and Skye was actually in tears, with Harry grinning as he hugged her.

"Three monsters are not going to sit still much longer," Nick warned her, as the three fabbits in his arms squirmed and strained, reaching out their small paws for Judy. All three let out whiny growls. "I'm gonna get bit if I keep holding them back."

Smiling down at her children, Judy tapped one hind paw, until they were paying attention to her and not just trying to free themselves. Once they were a little more focused, she gave Nick a nod, and he let go, while the older five bunny kits pulled their legs and arms out of the way.

Despite only a little past their first birthday, the three fabbits dove off the chair and ran—or rather, wobbled on two paws unsteadily—toward Judy, making grabbing motions with their forepaws the whole way. When they did finally reach her, the two girls latched onto Judy's legs, while the boy beckoned to be picked up. She obliged, hoisting him, while his sisters clung, giggling.

"How were they?" Judy asked, dragging her hind paws as she walked to Nick, so she did not toss the two fabbit kits off her legs.

"Reasonably good for their first big outing, with a lot of cameras on them as we came in," he admitted, then held out his left arm, where a patch of fur was missing. "Don't know which of them got me, but teething still isn't fun."

"They seem to prefer going after you, Slick. Starting to think they see foxes as prey, which—" Judy winced and cut off her sentence as Markus bit her shoulder. Even through her dress uniform, the combination of large front teeth and smaller fangs was painful. Reaching up, she carefully pried him off of her. "Markus, honey, that's not nice. Don't bite mommy."

Markus leaned back in her arms, grinning broadly. He took after his father more than Judy cared to admit, and rarely understood there were consequences for anything he did. That was going to be brutal in another decade, when he approached his teens.

Gentler nibbling on her shin warned Judy before Katie dug in, too. She shifted Markus and managed to get her paw onto Katie's head between her oversized pointed ears. "Don't you start that, too. Whatever your father taught you was a bad idea."

"Sound advice all around," Nick told her, as the five bunnies around him nodded sagely. "Is our new police chief ready to face the media, and then head home?"

Judy moved Markus to her other shoulder, and searched the animals still in the audience. Not far off, Marian and John were sitting together, whispering and smiling. "We'll want to wait on mom, in case she needs a ride. They look like they're doing better than last week, when they were fighting."

Nick followed her gaze, then nodded. "Lot of bumps along the road to recovery, especially when you're trying to start dating again at their age. His job will never make that easy. They're trying, though. She really wants him back, no matter what she says. And him…well, he's stuck in a lost moment from almost thirty years ago. He'll never stop loving her."

"They'll figure it out," Judy assured herself, as well as those around her. "Eight grandkits seems to be motivating them to get things sorted out sooner, rather than later."

"Mom, can we go play now, or do we hafta sit here?" asked Amy, rapidly tapping both hind paws on her chair's seat, making a rattling boom that forced them both to pay attention. "This was boring. Not like school boring, but still boring."

"Yes, you can all go, but don't go anywhere you can't see us," Judy assured Amy, and the other four took off running, even before their official speaker was off her chair. As a mob, they raced out onto the grassy field, chasing each other around, while giggling.

"Glad to see they've completely forgotten where we found them," Judy said to no one in particular. "You sure you're up to the task of watching the younger ones and putting up with getting all five of them to school?"

"Yes, absolutely. It's why I'm not wearing a uniform anymore. Speaking of these monsters," Nick said, his tone hinting he was somewhat changing the topic. "We got a pre-emptive letter from the public school district that they don't want—and I quote—'a bunch of misfits' attending pre-school. The clarification was that they only accept non-hybrid mammals. They tried to soften it by saying they also don't accept avians. Nice of them to let us know a couple years early, without being asked."

Judy sighed and rolled her eyes. "Glad they've moved past the fox-hating and went straight to the fabbit and other hybrid-hating. They really don't waste time, do they?"

"Roxes," Nick corrected, smirking. "They called them roxes. Told you it was catchier."

"Whatever, Slick. Roxes or fabbits, what are we doing about it?"

"Absolutely nothing. John's working that issue. Me, I just made sure that a few news agencies got wind of it anonymously."

Judy grumbled and bounced Markus in her arms. "I don't want the ZBI having that kind of leverage with us. No special treatments. That's the rule, Nick. I'll go remind him…"

"Don't bother. He's not doing it for us, at least on paper. Something about avian ambassadors needing to be able to have their chicks get an education without fear of mistreatment. The ambassadors have several about to enter school, and this is an issue for them right now, instead of the future. I've seen his appeal to the mayor and it's really smooth. Hybrids are covered by it, but never mentioned. I don't think they'll realize they're approving things for us until it's already done."

"He needs to stop changing the laws for us," Judy muttered, still watching John. Her annoyance faded sharply when he and Marian crossed tails affectionately. The act Marian put on of not having forgiven him was wearing seriously thin, given that she spent several nights each week at his home. "This is getting to be a bad habit of his."

Nick shook his head, then reached down and plucked Katie off Judy's leg and put her back on his knee. Before he started talking again, he bounced the kit, making her squeal happily. "He's not just doing it for us. He's got sway with the government that most animals never will. In the end, he's using it to make life better for everyone who wasn't protected the way they should have been years ago. It's as much about others like us as it is about us, specifically."

Judy turned and searched the crowds on the wide field, many wearing ZPD uniforms, and the rest congratulating or talking with them. Aside from the number of bunnies and other formerly-rare species in the ZPD, it looked like every other class she had seen in the last few years. "Did we really change anything, Nick? The city was open to having a bunny officer when I came here. It's been six years, give or take. What really changed?"

"Oh, I love this game," Nick told her, as she watched the crowd. "For starters, how many animals do you see in cadet uniforms out there?"

"There were seventy-two cadets this year," she answered immediately.

"Your class was thirty-four. Mine was thirty-seven. After Rolen, the next class was three, if you don't count the security officers we brought in from the outlying districts. Seventy wouldn't have happened if Rolen was still out there. It wouldn't have happened if Bellwether was still out there. It definitely wouldn't have happened if any of the hundreds of other lesser criminals you've caught were still out there. You made the city feel safe again, and gave respectability back to the ZPD. Skye and Harry would have shot each other years ago if not for you, instead of ending up dating. Heck, you brought John back into my mother's life, for better or worse. Have some pride, chief."

"We did all of that, not me," she reminded him, as he was all too fond of forgetting his role. "Every one of those we did together, and I'm sure if we didn't, someone else would have. I'm proud of what we did, but I just don't know if we really changed things."

"Ok, listen," he started again. "You are world-famous. Not even exaggerating there. My name shows up in criminology textbooks, and not for the reasons my mom thought it would, but I'm far from famous. That's all you. You can do this without me, as we've discussed a million times over the last few months, since you went back to work. If that's not enough, look me in the eyes and tell me we didn't make something that the world will always remember."

Smiling at Nick's enthusiasm, Judy looked over at him and could not help but laugh. Hanging over his face was Katie, batting at Nick's muzzle. By trying to look Nick in the eyes, Judy was staring right at the oldest—by a matter of minutes—fabbit in the world. "Okay, fine. We did make a few remarkable things, but that was together, too. I still don't feel confident without you working with me."

"I've got all four paws full for another decade with these monsters," he reminded her, as he plucked Katie off his face, holding her by the scruff of her neck. She squirmed and swatted at his paw, and Judy saw that she was trying unsuccessfully to use her tiny retractable claws to get through his fur. "You're the better cop, Judy. Always were, always will be. I'll hold down the fort and make sure these monsters don't end up in your cells. You did the hard work bringing them into the world, and I'll try to keep them from burning the place down around our ears."

"I still need you, Nick," she admitted softly, not having planned to say the words out loud.

"Not going anywhere, Fluff. We just have different end goals. Yours is to see the city keep improving, and I'll back you on that any way I can. Mine is to raise this family to be better than mine was. I'll be at your side the whole way, like it or not. Once they're all in school, we'll see about me coming back to the force part-time, though I really don't like being called 'captain'. We can't fulfill both dreams without sacrifices. Me staying home is a pretty small one, considering what we've been through."

Small sharp fangs pricked at Judy's shin and she pulled Amelia off her leg and brought her up to the hip opposite Markus. "You're right, as usual."

"That's a first, having you admit it."

"Oh, shush…and I'll make sure to deny I ever said it," she teased, sitting down alongside Nick and Katie. "Maybe we're both right. I didn't change the world. We changed it. We're a good team, Slick, whether it's at the precinct or not."

Nick moved Katie onto his lap and the two waved their paws at each other, fake-fighting for a few moments, though even at a year old, Katie usually knew better than to actually hit someone. This was one of their games, swatting the air like they were going to maul each other. Judy didn't fully understand the appeal, but the kits loved pouncing, biting, and clawing at things—especially Nick—so the mock-fighting helped keep them from doing the real thing.

"You'll be fine, Fluff," Nick assured her, once he didn't have a fabbit swatting at him with tiny but sharp claws. "You were born to be the police chief. You wanted to change the world, and you have, and you will. This isn't the end of anyone's story. This is really the beginning. Stop worrying. It's really not your style."

Flopping the side of her head onto Nick's shoulder, Judy watched the two children in her lap with a distant-feeling smile. "Bad habit learned through self-doubt and fear of anyone coming after my family. Thank you for believing in me, and in us. It's going to take me a little while to get used to taking Bogo's place. That's a big shadow to stand in."

Nick laughed and put an arm around her, which allowed Katie, Markus, and Amelia to get at each other. Without hesitation, the three began wrestling in their parents' laps. "Fluff, I'll never stop believing in you. As for the rest, you might want to push for a revision of the ZPD pawbook on proper officer behavior. Pretty sure it said something about 'looking up to' senior officers. Unless we get you a really tall stool…"

Judy poked Nick with her elbow, trying hard not to draw the attention of the kits. They were rowdy enough without thinking it was okay to hit their father. "I'll look into that. For now, they'll figure it out."

"Now, how I'm going to put up with you being the chief, and me being a lowly retired officer…that's going to take some work, Chief Fluff."

"You'll put up with it because you know you love me," she reminded him, nuzzling his arm.

"Do I?" Nick asked her, though he was watching their other five kits playing out near Fangmeyer and Katrina. "Yes, yes I do. I love all of you."