When Chief Bogo had asked Judy to give the commencement speech at the graduation ceremony, she'd been terrified. The last time she'd spoken in public, she'd incited a whole host of problems in Zootopia. Besides, it wasn't like this would be any graduation – this would be Nick's. After the Chief had asked her to give a speech, Judy had set to work trying to come up with something profound to say, but she'd purposefully not told Nick, wanting it to be a surprise. The doe had written her speech out countless times, tweaked it, edited it, and had then wholly re-written it. After two weeks, she'd finally been satisfied.
Judy had been forced to tell Marian when the pair had gone shopping a week before the ceremony. The vixen had enlisted Judy's help in picking out an outfit, and when she'd tried to get Judy into a dress, the rabbit had admitted that she would be wearing her blues. Judy had been given little choice but to come clean. Marian had promised not to tell Nick, and the two had returned to their shopping.
Now, Judy stood backstage, hind paws thumping nervously against the wooden floor of the stage that had been erected for the ceremony. The academy field was beautiful in the sunshine, and Judy had no doubt that Nick would be wearing his aviators. Even the smallest bit of sun had the fox reaching for them.
The doe had travelled to the ceremony with Marian, meeting up with Jasmine and Sasha at the station. Her little sister had been full of energy, bouncing on the spot, keen to see Nick and his mom. Judy had entrusted Marian's care to her littermate before disappearing once they'd made it to the field, and Jasmine had silently sworn to look after the vixen.
It had made Marian smile, the way the Hopps daughters fussed over her. In an ideal world, the vixen would've had another kit, a little sister for Nicky to dote on. Life had not been so kind, though. Now, the vixen sat in the audience waiting for her son to receive his badge, and she couldn't wait to give Nicky his last present from his father. It was tucked away safely in her handbag, along with a handwritten note. Robert had left it to Nick in his will, insisting that Marian only give it to him at a significant moment in their son's life. When Robert's will had been read and the items handed to the vixen, she'd wondered how her husband had seemed to know he wouldn't be around for their son's future. The thought had plagued her ever since. However, Marian had followed her husband's request and had kept it safe, waiting for the right moment. When she'd received the invitation to Nick's graduation ceremony, a certainty had settled over her. It was time.
Backstage, Judy pulled the piece of paper with her speech on from her pocket, looking at it one last time. "Good afternoon, Hopps." Chief Bogo's shadow fell over her, forcing the doe to abandon her reading and look up at her boss.
"Hi, Chief. You ready?" Judy folded the paper back up, sliding it into her pocket so she wouldn't lose it.
"I'm always ready." Bogo deadpanned. Reaching into his own pocket, he produced a small wooden box, offering it down to the bunny. "Here, you should have the honor."
Pushing up on the balls of her hind paws to close the distance, Judy took the box from her boss. Opening it, she saw Nick's badge sat inside, the plaque beneath it inscribed with his name. Her breath caught in her throat. "You're going to badge Wilde." She heard Bogo explain.
Judy's head shot up, eyes finding the Chief. "But Sir, that's your job."
Bogo crossed his arms over his broad chest, shaking his head. "Hopps, it's not every day that a new recruit solves our biggest case to date, and then convinces another mammal to join the force. You deserve to badge your partner."
Judy looked down at the item in her paws. Bogo had a point. Getting to badge Nick would be an honor, and the perfect way to start their work partnership. One of her paws moved to brush the smooth metal. "Thanks, Chief." Judy smiled.
Bogo played it off, shrugging his shoulders. Truth be told, he knew how significant the relationship between partners was, and that a stable foundation was vital. Back in the day, he'd joined the force to prove a point to his family and three years into his career he'd been forced to arrest his own father. It had been his second worst day on the force, eclipsed only by the loss of his partner of seven years. He'd taken the position of Chief afterward when he'd been unable to face being in the field without Marty by his side. The zebra and the buffalo – they had been unstoppable. Now Bogo tried his hardest to protect all of his officers, his family, to ensure that they would always have one another's backs. He never wanted to lose another mammal he cared for.
The partnership between Nick and Judy was already strong, both in and out of the precinct. Though Bogo would always be a little hard on the pair – for he could never openly show favoritism – he had no doubt that they would be the best partnership on his force.
"You're up, Chief Bogo." An impala appeared beside them, ushering Bogo on to the stage to open the ceremony. Judy's nerves were back as she closed the box containing Nick's badge. Her pockets weren't big enough for it, so she held it in her paws. Staying behind the backdrop curtain, Judy listened as Bogo welcomed everyone, congratulating the new recruits.
The impala returned, offering Judy a smile. "You're up after, Officer Hopps."
Judy took a deep breath, bracing herself. She could still remember Nick's advice from the press conference, and the look on his face when she'd presented him with the application form and her carrot pen. Bogo had given her the pen back a few days before Nick had come home for Christmas, and after wiping it clean and recording a message of encouragement on it, the doe had presented it to her fox at Savannah Central as a parting gift before his exams. Their contact had been sporadic while he'd sat the final tests, but when results had been published the rabbit had been the first mammal he'd called. Nick had done exceptionally well – he hadn't made valedictorian like her, but he was graduating in the top 10% of his year's recruits. She was exceptionally proud of him.
"Now, to deliver the commencement speech, please welcome Officer Judith Hopps to the stage." Chief Bogo ended, introducing the rabbit.
The clapping of the crowd gave Judy her cue. Standing tall, she moved from behind the curtain, circling on to the stage and up to the podium, offering the Chief a nod as she climbed up the three little steps that had been set up for her, allowing her to reach the top of the lectern and the microphone. Placing the box with Nick's badge on the surface along with her written speech, she gave the crowd a quick glance, spotting Nick easily.
When Chief Bogo had introduced Judy to the stage, Nick hadn't been able to hold back a quiet chuckle, shaking his head. Of course, Judy would be the one to give the commencement speech at his graduation. Randon's massive paw had connected with the fox's back, giving him a light shove. When the tod had returned to the academy bearing Judy's mark, his circle of friends had taken great joy in teasing him about being whipped.
Capturing Judy's gaze as she looked around, Nick offered her a playful smile. "Sly bunny." He mouthed to her, knowing the hearing of some of his fellow graduates was so acute they'd pick up on his teasing if he spoke aloud. He hadn't seen Judy in a few weeks, and he'd missed her terribly, but her care package containing a considerable supply of Hopps' Family Farm blueberries had helped him with the push towards the finish line and had reminded him that he would see her soon. He'd get to go home this evening and sleep in their bed, wake up to Judy singing along to some awful Kitty Purry song on the radio while making breakfast.
Pulling her gaze from Nick, Judy cleared her throat. "Thank you, Chief Bogo." The doe glanced at her boss before she looked out over the crowd once more. "When Chief Bogo asked me to make the commencement speech I immediately said yes, then I went to look up what commencement meant." A ripple of laughter filled the air. "It would have been easier had I had a dictionary, but most of the books in our house serve a better purpose as step stools." This time the laughter was louder, and the rabbit smiled as it took the crowd a moment to settle.
"On a more series note, I'm honored to be here, to welcome the new graduates to the ZPD. Being a cop isn't easy, regardless of what any mammal says, and some days you question why you're here, why you're doing what you're doing, why you're risking your life day in and day out for mammals you don't know. I've had days like that, I'm sure my fellow officers have too, I'd even hazard a guess that Chief Bogo has – just don't quote me on that." She spared a quick glance to her boss, suppressing her smile at the crowd's laughter and Bogo's unamused expression. Turning back to her audience, the doe continued. "But what makes it worthwhile is knowing that, with every little action, with every case and investigation, with every criminal behind bars, we're making the world a better place. A better place for us, for the future, for our kits and our grandkits."
Though the piece of paper with her speech lay on the lectern in front of her, now that she was stood before the crowds Judy deviated, letting her words flow freely.
"I was born and raised in Bunnyburrow, and when I was eight I had hundreds of siblings. Mom and dad gave us their all, gave us the same amount of attention, took care of us all the same way, but I felt different. While my siblings were fine with things staying the same, with helping to work on the farm, I wanted to do something to make a name for myself. My parents tried to encourage me to join the family business, to settle and be safe, but that was never what I wanted. I wanted to change how mammals saw one another, but that change had to start with me. For me, that meant becoming the first bunny cop, regardless of the fear and danger. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. My dad could have been a great politician, negotiating has always been one of his strong points, but he didn't believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as a carrot farmer." Though her parents weren't in attendance to hear her words, Judy sought out Jasmine and Sasha in the crowd, knowing her siblings would rely everything to Bonnie and Stu. They'd done right by her and had raised her well, but there was nothing they could've done to stop her from wanting more, to prevent her from being a cop.
Eyes moving over the crowd, Judy took in all the different species gathered together, predators and prey untied to celebrate. "I came to Zootopia wanting to be something more, something better. On my first day with the ZPD I was assigned parking duty, which is probably one step up from cleaning the precinct toilets," the comment earned her a ripple of laughter. "But it was during that day that I met a mammal who would not only help me solve my first case, a case I'd staked my badge on, but who would also open my eyes to the wider world. I'm ashamed to admit that I was a little naive and that it gave him the perfect opportunity to hustle me, but it's okay, I think I've finally got him back." Judy found Nick once more and held his gaze "Prepare yourself for mountains of paperwork, Slick. It's not all slapping cuffs on criminals and offering witty comebacks." Nick's smile faltered at the mention of paperwork. "It's called a hustle, sweetheart." Judy chuckled as Nick's smile reappeared. No one else in the audience understood the significance of Judy's words even though they laughed, but that was okay. It was their little joke after all.
Judy continued. "When I was a kit, I thought Zootopia was this perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, real life is a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means ― hey, glass half full ― we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what type of mammal you are, from the biggest elephant," Judy gestured to Horton, "to our first fox," she gestured to Nick, "I implore you to try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us."
"This city, this crazy and beautiful city, with its multiple districts and millions of mammals, deserves our very best, it deserves for us to come together, to make it better, to make the future better, to build a city we're proud of and proud to serve." One of Judy's paws came to rest on the box containing Nick's badge, knowing the moment she'd pin it to his uniform was drawing ever closer.
"So, with that in mind, I'd like to welcome Chief Bogo back on to the stage to badge our new recruits and formally welcome them to the ZPD family." Judy gave way for the Chief, earning herself a loud round of applause. Her large ears even caught the sound of Nick's whistle as she stepped down, taking the wooden box with her.
Returning to the lectern, Chief Bogo offered Judy a nod as they crossed paths. Her speech had been inspiring and had thankfully gone down a lot better than her one at the press conference. Once the crowd settled, the cape buffalo spoke. "Thank you, Officer Hopps. It's with great honor that we now welcome this year's recruits to the ZPD by presenting them with their badges." Bogo sat his glasses on his snout, glancing down at the list of new recruits. The impala that had brought him onstage stood beside him, holding the boxes containing the recruit's badges. One by one Bogo called them forward, pining their badges to their uniforms before he saluted them, the new recruits mirroring his actions. Nick was the last one without his badge. "Nicholas Wilde," Bogo called out. Horton took Nick's sunglasses for safekeeping and as Nick started to climb the stairs to the platform, Judy stepped forward, the wooden box in her paws.
Reaching the top step, Nick paused as he saw the little box in Judy's paws. Bogo had badged all of the other recruits but Judy would be badging him? His eyes softened as he took the final few steps to stand before his partner. Violet and emerald met as Judy lifted the lid on the wooden box, extracting Nick's badge. Letting the impala take the box, for the time being, Judy took a small step forward, pinning the metal shield to Nick's uniform. After spending the last few weeks apart being this close again made all the tension in Judy's body to melt away. She'd missed him, missed seeing him, and gosh did he look great in his uniform. "Don't you dare have those thoughts right now Judy!"
Judy may have spent a second or two longer than necessary straightening Nick's badge, but she eventually took a step back, lifting her left paw to salute him. A playful smile passed over Nick's face before he stood tall, offering his own salute. The new recruits cheered, throwing their hats into the air. Judy's paw fell moment's later, Nick's mirroring. "Ready to make the world a better place, Officer Wilde?"
Hearing Judy use his new title made Nick's chest swell with pride. Officer Wilde. Nick felt the weight of his badge on his chest, knew the responsibility that came with wearing it, but with Judy by his side, it didn't feel like such a colossal task. "I'm more than ready to kick tail and take names, Officer Hopps."
Though he didn't want to interrupt their moment, knowing it was a special occasion, Bogo was keenly aware that the press would want photographs of Nick – being the first fox on the force would propel him into the spotlight, just like it'd done for Judy. "Wilde, the press is going to want to photos." He interrupted, gesturing over his shoulder to the gathering crowd with cameras. Nick had blanked them out, oblivious to any photos they'd taken while Judy had been presenting him with his badge, but he knew there would be talk around the city about the ZPD taking on its first fox. Zootopia had been buzzing with gossip when Judy had been given her badge.
"Go get 'em, Slick." Judy gave Nick's shoulder a light punch, moving aside to give her partner space. From her position on stage, Judy watched as the Chief and Nick posed for photos, similar to the ones she'd had taken with Mayor Lionheart. Zootopia's new mayor, Mayor Hoofman, had given the ZPD full autonomy over the graduation ceremony. He was less of an attention seeker than Mayor Lionheart, preferring to actually run the city than focus on PR.
Though Nick had no problem with having his photo taken with Bogo, there was someone more important he wanted in the photos with him. "Carrots," He glanced to Judy, beckoning her with a paw to join him.
Judy shook her head. This was Nick's moment and he deserved all of the attention. He'd worked incredibly hard at the academy. With a quick maneuver, Nick moved away from the Chief, crossing the stage to Judy. Grasping her paw in his he pulled her with him back to the center of the stage, ignoring her futile protests.
"This is your moment, Nick." Judy tried to get out of the situation, but the tod wasn't listening. Chief Bogo moved aside, failing miserably to hide his amusement as the fox cajoled the rabbit.
"And I want to share it with you. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. We're a team. Now, show them those pearly whites." Nick brought them to a stop, letting go of Judy's paw to throw his arm over her shoulder, pulling her to his side. It wasn't the standard, official pose, but it was them. Sliding a paw around Nick's back, Judy grasped at his waist, leaning into him. The press went crazy, and Judy swore that amongst the camera flashes she saw her siblings and Marian taking photos too.
The fuss died down eventually, the other newly badged officers getting to have their photos taken too, and the Chief led Nick and Judy from the stage. The impala handed Judy the box Nick's badge had been in, and Judy offered it to her mate. Nick clutched it like a lifeline in one paw, the other finding Judy's to lead her through the crowd and towards the last spot he'd seen his mom, Jasmine, and Sasha.
"Nicky!" Marian cooed as her son approached, weaving his way through the crowd.
As they drew closer, Judy dropped her tod's paw; prying the badge box from him so that when they reached Marian, he'd be able to embrace her. When the distance between them had been closed, the fox did just that, pulling his mother into a firm embrace, both of their tails wagging.
Marian sniffled, overcome with emotion. Her little boy was now an officer of the law. Now he had an honest job, a good home, and Judy by his side. She wished Robert could be with them, to see his son flourish, but even though he wasn't physically present Marian knew he was there in spirit. "Your dad would be so proud of you, Nicky. I'm so proud of you." Marian whispered, paws tightening around Nick, stroking his back.
Nick nuzzled against his mother, heart swelling as she told him how proud she was. "Thanks, mom."
Judy gave Nick and Marian their moment, distracting her siblings who'd been standing nearby with questions about the goings on at home. Jasmine and Sasha had quickly filled her in on the events back in Bunnyburrow before the conversation had returned to the ceremony.
"Your speech was lovely, Jude." Jasmine complimented. The doe had been aware that her littermate would be speaking at the event but had been sworn to secrecy.
"That it was Carrots, but we'll have to get you some proper step stools." Nick and Marian had broken apart and turned their attention to the cluster of rabbits. Nick was unable to stop himself from slinging an arm over Judy's shoulders again, keeping her close as he teased her. While their apartment had been built with small mammals in mind, Judy still struggled to reach the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards and bookcase.
"Oh please, I'll just ask you to reach items for me, or give me a boost." Judy leaned against Nick, one of her arms wrapping around his waist as she looked up at him.
Snorting in amusement, the fox shook his head, his tail brushing against the back of Judy's legs. "And here I was thinking you wanted to live together because you love me when really you're using me for my height."
"That, and when I'm cold, I can use your tail as a blanket." Judy teased, rocking on the spot to knock her hip against the tod's.
"Oh Carrots, you wound me," Nick feigned hurt, grinning down at the bunny tucked against his side. He'd happily help her reach anything, and he was more than okay with wrapping her up in his tail.
The flash of a camera broke their moment. Emerald and violet eyes turned to find Marian with a camera in her paws and a grin on her face. "Picture time!" The vixen would never confess that she'd snapped the moment because Nick and Judy had been so lost in one another and it had been a beautifully candid moment.
Holding out her paw, Judy took the camera and used it to take a few photos of Nick and Marian. The look of pride on both of their faces warmed Judy's heart, and she made sure to snap as many pictures as possible, knowing there were only a few images of the two of them together since Nick had left home as a teen.
Marian encouraged Judy to join them for a few photos. Selfishly, the vixen wanted to hang a few on the wall of the three of them. Nick had claimed the little grey bunny; she was part of the family. Though Judy protested at being in more pictures, Jasmine pushed her sister forward, snatching the camera from her. Once Jasmine had taken a few more, an elderly tiger offered to take some photos of the five of them together, and once they were done Judy thought their impromptu photo-shoot was over. She was wrong.
"Ohhh, now I want a few of you and Judy, Nicky." Marian took the camera back from the elderly tiger, thanking her for taking the photos.
"We've already had a load of photos taken, mom. I'm sure one will be in the paper, can't you use that one?" Nick really had no objections to having more photos taken with Judy, but the afternoon was wearing on and he wanted to head home, change out of his blues, and spend a little time with Judy.
"I think a few more photos would be lovely, Marian." Jasmine agreed, nodding enthusiastically. She loved Judy, but the look of silent fury on her sister's face as she was forced to pose for more pictures was too good of an opportunity to miss. Even Sasha found amusement at Judy's pain, hiding her smile behind one of her paws.
Indulging them, Nick and Judy posed for a few more photos. By the time they were finished the crowds were thinning out, new recruits and their families heading back to the city. Judy had managed to secure a booking at Embers, a popular restaurant downtown. The wait list had been long when she'd called to book after Nick had returned to the academy, but with some sweet talking to the owner and the mention of the occasion they were celebrating, she'd managed to secure a table for 7p.m for her, Nick, and Marian. The owner had been keen to accommodate two of the city's cops, especially ones with high profiles. They would have to return home first to change, and Judy wanted to give Nick his graduation present in private.
"We should probably get going Slick, we need to change for dinner." Judy took her mate's paw, giving it a squeeze. The doe was also aware of the fact that Jasmine and Sasha would need to head back to Bunnyburrow. The train back to Zootopia would take them an hour. Nick and Judy would take a Zuber back to their apartment, while Marian would head back to her home to freshen up.
"Change for dinner?" Nick looked at his mother, out of the loop. With all of the stress of his final exams, Judy hadn't bothered him with the details about their dinner. Besides, she wanted it to be a surprise. Marian nodded her head in Judy's direction and Nick turned to look at his mate.
A little embarrassed, Judy smoothed down her ears with her free paw. "I got a table for us at 7p.m., at Embers."
Emerald eyes widening, Nick couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Carrots, Embers is fancy and getting a table is nearly impossible." Though the tod had never had the means to eat at the restaurant, he'd walked past it enough times to know the sort of clientèle it served, and he'd overheard enough mammal's lamenting the wait list too.
Judy shrugged, picking up the box Nick's badge had been in. She'd placed it down on Marian's chair while they'd had all their photos taken. It wasn't like anyone was going to steal it at a police event. "The blueberry pie there is famous, and I think my favorite blueberry connoisseur deserves a treat."
Giving Judy's paw a gentle squeeze, a soft smile crossed the tod's face. "Thanks, Carrots."
"Any time, Slick."
The train ride back to Zootopia passed in a blur of conversation, other graduates and their families chatting away to Nick, Judy, and Marian. They'd parted ways with Jasmine and Sasha on the platform, the two rabbits promising to come and visit them in the city soon. Sasha had struggled to say goodbye to Nick, but this time there thankfully hadn't been any tears. Instead, the young doe had asked if Nick would come back to Bunnyburrow to speak at her school on Career Day. The tod had promised to run the idea past Bogo.
As the train finally pulled into Savannah Central, Judy stepped aside to call two Zuber's, giving Marian the perfect opportunity. "Nicky, a moment?" Marian placed a paw on her son's arm, gesturing to a quiet corner of the platform with a tip of her head. Robert's gift and letter felt heavy in her bag, and she wanted to give them to Nick now. Something told her it would be better for her kit to open them before dinner.
Nick swallowed, the serious tone of his mom's voice worrying him. "Sure, mom." He let her lead him towards an empty bench, a little scared about what she wanted to talk about.
The vixen sat, ankles crossed and bag on her lap, her body turned inwards a little so she could see her son better. Nick sat beside her, his paws going out to rest on his mom's. "Is everything okay?" he searched her eyes, concerned.
Marian freed one of her paws from Nick's grasp, lifting it to rest it against her boy's cheek. Instinctively, Nick leaned into her touch, soothed by his mother's paw. "I'm so proud of you Nicky. Look at you, an officer of the law." Marian sniffled, feeling the tears threatening to fall again. She'd already used up two out of her three tissue packets drying away her tears. "You've come so far. I'm so happy for you. You have a wonderful job and a lovely home. Let's not forget Judy, too." Marian smoothed her paw over her boy's cheek, noting how his ears instinctively pricked up at the mention of Judy. "Your dad would be so, so proud," Nick whined quietly at the mention of his father, at the reminder that his dad couldn't be with them on this important day. "Shh Nicky, I know." Marian cooed.
Taking her paw from Nick's cheek, Marian opened her bag. From it, she produced a small wrapped box and a letter, yellowed with age. "Your dad left these in his will for you. He left me a note instructing me to give them to you on a special day. I think today is that day." She offered them out to her kit.
Nick sat frozen, staring at the small wrapped box and the yellowed letter in his mother's paws. His dad's handwriting was visible on the outside of the letter – 'Nickster.' Nick took a shuddering breath, his paws moving to rub his eyes as he tried to stop himself from getting upset. While his mom had called him Nicky from day one, his dad had called him Nickster. It was a nickname that had died when his father had. Paws shaking, he finally worked up the courage to pick up the two items.
"Perhaps open them once you get home?" Marian spoke softly, smoothing a paw over Nick's arm. She had no idea as to the contents of the letter and package – it hadn't been her place to open them – but she knew her son might become emotional and he would feel safer being more open with his feelings in the comfort of his own home. Robert had always had a way with words, and Marian was sure the words in his letter to their son would affect Nicky.
Clutching the small package and letter like his very life depended on it, Nick nodded numbly. "Yeah." He couldn't pull his gaze away from his fathers' handwriting.
Marian glanced around them, spotting Judy nearby. The young doe was keeping herself occupied talking to Tony and his parents, who'd joined them on the train home, though one of her large ears flicked around regularly towards Marian and Nick. The vixen had to smile; Judy's need to continually check on Nick warmed her heart. With her boy lost in his thoughts, she spoke in a whisper, having learned early on in her friendship with the bunny that her hearing was incredible. "He needs you."
It was a matter of seconds before Judy appeared beside them, having managed to excuse herself from her conversation with Tony and his parents. Marian placed a paw on Judy's arm as she stood, offering her seat to the bunny. "I'll meet you at the restaurant." Marian dropped a kiss to the top of Judy's head, repeating the action with Nick. Her boy glanced up, eyes a little misty. "I love you." Marian made sure her son heard her.
"Love you too, mom." Nick's voice was hoarse, and he watched as his mom walked away, leaving Savannah Central. The feel of a small paw on his had Nick turning to look to his side. "Judy." The sight of his mate made the tod smile, pulling him away from his thoughts. "Hey, Carrots."
While Nick had been watching Marian leave, Judy had spared a quick glance to the items in his paws. The masculine scrawl on the letter told Judy it had not been written by the vixen – so it wasn't hard for her to guess that the letter was from his father. Who else would give Nick such an endearing nickname? "Hey Slick. You ready to go home?"
With a slow nod, Nick stood, keeping a tight hold on the package and letter. Judy held his badge box with one paw, using the other to lead her partner through the train station and out to the waiting Zuber.
Sat in the back seats of the taxi, Judy waited for their driver to start the journey before she spoke. "Excited for dinner, Slick?" She tried to pull Nick's thoughts away from the items in his paws, if only for the length of their journey home. "You'll have to dress up and wear something smart." She teased, thinking about the many new shirts she'd added to his wardrobe.
The mention of Nick dressing up was enough to distract the fox and his gaze moved from the parcel and letter to find Judy. "You know I hate formal wear, Fluff." He grimaced.
"But you'll wear it this evening, right? For me?" Judy batted her eyelashes, knocking her knee lightly against his.
Sighing, Nick conceded. His mate had gone out of her way to make sure his graduation would be appropriately celebrated, so the least he could do was dress up for the occasion. "You're a pain in my tail, Carrots." He teased.
"Yeah, but you wouldn't have me any other way." Judy shot back, moving to lean against her fox, forcing him to lift an arm and wrap it around her, the pair of them snuggling together.
Nick offered her a lazy smile, voice dropping to a soft tone. "Damn straight."
It wasn't long before the Zuber pulled up to the curb outside their apartment, and Judy passed the fare to the driver before she and Nick left the vehicle. Removing her keys from her pocket, Judy was first down to their front door, unlocking it and stepping inside. Throwing her keys on to the little table by the door, she stepped aside to let Nick in. Following behind her, the tod transferred the letter and package to one paw, using the other to fish his own keys from his pockets, placing them down beside Judy's.
Traipsing behind Judy into the living room, Nick's eyes skipped around the room, taking in the minimal changes since he'd last been home. Judy had tided in anticipation of his return, but her blanket was still slung over the side of the couch, and the few crumbs he spotted on the floor were a telltale sign that she'd been eating popcorn, probably while watching a movie. What caught his attention the most though was the small wrapped gift on the coffee table, the tod's name visible on the tag. "Oh Carrots."
Guessing that her mate would probably want to open the letter and parcel in his paw in peace, Judy gave the couch a quick pat. "I'm going to grab a shower before getting ready for dinner. I should be out in around 15 minutes if you want to shower after." She excused herself, giving her fox some warning as to how long she'd be gone for. Placing his badge box down on the coffee table next to the wrapped gift, she offered Nick a fond smile before making her exit, heading down the hallway to the bathroom.
Grateful for Judy's gesture, the tod took a seat on the couch, the letter and parcel heavy in his paws. He wouldn't be able to focus for the rest of the night without knowing the contents of them, but a part of him was frightened by what they held. Taking a deep breath, the tod placed the package down on the coffee table so he could start with the letter. Initially, he merely stared at his dad's handwriting on the front, faintly aware of the sound of the shower turning on in the bathroom. Paw tracing over the script, the tod carefully opened the letter. Unfolding the yellowed paper, his nose took in the familiar old scent attached to it. "Dad."
Swallowing, he started to read.
If you're reading this, then something has happened to me. Maybe I forgot to look both ways before crossing the road, perhaps I annoyed an elephant a little too much, or maybe something more sinister happened. I just hope that whatever it was you and your mother didn't witness it.
You remind me of your mother so much, and not just because you inherited her beautiful eyes. As I write this, you're sat with her on the couch, going over your homework. Maths – never my strong suit, but always your mother's. She can run rings around me let me tell you that.
Have I ever told you about the first time I met her? We were young, sixteen or so, and I loved magic. Silly I know, but stick with me here. I'd gone with some friends to a diner for lunch and your mom was there, sat on one of the barstools with her friends, fur immaculate and wearing a pretty white dress. She was a vision. She still is. Encouraged by my friends I tried to impress her with a card trick, but your mother was too smart, and instead of me tricking her, she fooled me. It was there, standing next to her in a little diner, surrounded by our friends, red in the face from being out-smarted, that I knew I wanted her as my mate. I've never regretted a moment since.
I asked your mother to give this letter to you on a special day in your life. I wonder what it is today that your mother feels is so special. Have you moved out and got your own home? Have you landed your first job? Are you getting married? Are you currently cradling your first kit? So many incredible moments in your life I won't get to see. I'm with you, though. I'll always be with you. Know that your mom and I love you very much and we could not be prouder of you. We're not perfect parents, but we have done our best to help you make your way through the problematic growing-up years and prepare for the future.
I remember the way your mother stood in the bathroom late that fateful night, cursing me for getting her pregnant, while at the same time excitedly gazing up at the moon, knowing she was about to bring you into the world. I remember the way she looked at me with such determination and told me, 'We can do this.'
You won't remember the way you looked at me after you were born, wide green eyes filled with curiosity when your mother let me cradle you close, the way I pulled you up next to my heart and smothered you in my scent.
You won't remember all the times I went to bed at night and felt such fear being your father: am I doing okay? Have I messed up? Can I be the kind of father he needs?
You won't remember the way my heart broke and grew a little bigger each time you passed a milestone, watching the sand fall through the hourglass of your life while feeling overjoyed witnessing you expand and grow.
You probably won't remember the way you made me laugh with all of the silly and kind things you did, and you probably won't remember the way I would brush the fur from your eyes when you'd look up at me.
You probably won't remember the way I would hold your little paws in mine, imagining how much bigger than my own they would one day grow, and how I would have to let you go.
You may not remember, but I do…and I'll hold those memories in my heart for the both of us.
I've experienced a lot in my life, so please listen to your old fox and remember the following as you go through life:
Be true to yourself, always. There is no one else like you. You never need to change who you are for someone else. You are magnificent exactly as you are.
Live your own dreams. Figure out what makes you happy and pursue it. Follow a path of your own choosing – not mine, not your mothers, nor anyone else's.
Don't be afraid to take risks. You can accomplish great things by taking risks. Get outside of your comfort zone. The more risks you take, the easier it becomes.
Love wholly and unconditionally. When I was a kit, I thought love was about red roses and expensive dinners. Truth is, love is giving her half your fries when she said she wasn't hungry. It's waking up at 4am to her stealing all the sheets and refraining from taking them back. It's talking in strange accents just to make one another laugh and trying to embarrass one another in public. It's going on adventures and making fun of each other. It's stupid fights and memorable make-ups. Love isn't always pretty and romantic. Love is stumbling through life with your best friend. Love them with all your heart. They will be your guiding light.
When I was a kit, my grandfather owned the item I've left for you. He would look at it once in the morning and once in the evening, but never in the time in-between. When he passed away, he left it to my father, and when he passed away, he gave it to me. Now, I'm passing it on to you, my son. I hope that one day in the future you will pass it on to your kits, and they'll pass it on to there's, and hundreds of years in the future our family will still live on.
Every time you look at it, every time you carry it with you, let it serve as a reminder that our lives are short and precious, that every second counts and there is no time like the present. Buy that item you've always wanted, eat the food you're craving, love whoever you want, be open with those around you, take risks, and lead a full, happy life.
Don't waste a second. Make every moment count.
I love you, my kit. From the moment you were born, until the end of time, to infinity and beyond.
Nick couldn't control the shaking of his paws. The fur on his face was soaked, and the salty smell of tears tickled his nose. A high-pitched, distressed whine left him before he could stop it. His heart hurt, memories of his father flooded his mind as he clutched at the aged paper. While his mother had always been the more emotional of his parents, wearing her heart on her sleeve, his father had been his idol, the mammal he'd always looked up to.
Paws appeared in his field of vision, blurred by his tears, and Nick felt his muzzle being lifted. "Judy." Though lost in his memories his instincts knew the mammal before him, recognized the familiar small paws and the grey fur, and the scent of honeysuckle and violets mixed now with his own.
"Shhh Nick, it's okay, I'm here." Judy soothed, paws stroking the fur on her mate's muzzle. The doe had been in their room, clean and dry from her shower, underwear on and ready to get dressed, but the gut-wrenching whine from the living room had sent her into a panic. Fleeing the room, she'd found herself stood in front of Nick with his muzzle in her paws before she could blink The open letter gave Judy some context as to what had caused her mate so much distress.
Gently she took the letter from Nick's shaking paws, setting it aside. Turning her focus back to her mate she began to chin him, smothering him with her scent, hoping it would pull him out of whatever memory he was trapped in. It took a few minutes until her fox finally responded, arms snaking around her waist as Nick pulled her close.
Judy held her tod for a while, letting him work through his emotions. Slowly his noises of distress died down, the tears stopped, and he started to pull back. Paws cupping his cheeks, Judy offered him a small smile. "I got you, Slick." She whispered as Nick lifted his own paws, gently wrapping them around Judy's wrists.
"Thanks, Carrots." Nick's voice was hoarse as he let go of her long enough to scrub at his face, trying to remove some of the dampness. Eyes opening, emerald met violet. Gazing dropping, Nick's mouth went dry. "Urm, Carrots?"
Confused for a moment, Judy glanced down. In her blind panic to get to Nick, she was just in her underwear. "Getting to you was more important than getting dressed. Besides, it's nothing you haven't seen before." The doe pointed out.
Her comment drew a chuckle from the tod, his sadness momentarily replaced with love for his mate. She really was one of a kind. As his laughter subsided, the weight of his father's letter settled over him once again. Seeing it on the coffee table, he took a deep breath. Now it was time to open the package. "I'm okay now, thank you. Could you give me a moment, please?" The fox felt terrible asking for his mate to leave, but he wanted some privacy to open the gift, though he was sure he would show Judy whatever it was as soon as she was back in the room.
Not at all offended by Nick's request, though wary about leaving him alone, the doe had no choice but to nod. She pressed a kiss to her fox's muzzle before exiting the living room, unable to get her mind off of what she'd just witnessed.
Once Judy was out of sight, Nick reached for the package, paws feeling a little clammy. The wrapping paper was worn, faded with time, and the ribbon holding it together had long ago lost its luster. Instead, it now bordered on scraggly. It still made Nick smile, though. His dad had always paid attention to the little details; it was what had made him such an exceptional tailor.
Deft fingers plucked at the ribbon, careful not to break it as Nick untied it. It came away surprisingly easily, and the tod turned his focus to the paper. Carefully he peeled at the sticky tape, working it away from the paper, not wanting to rip it. When the paper finally came off, Nick was left with a small black box, hinged on one side. The box was made of leather, a clasp keeping it shut. Paws undoing the clasp, Nick lifted the lid. Inside, nestled against a velvet inlay, sat the pocket watch. Nick could remember his father carrying it with him everywhere, teaching Nick how to tell the time using it, and kissing it for good luck before meetings with important mammals. The fox only just held on to his whine this time.
Removing it from the box, Nick let the weight settle in his paw. When he'd been a kit it had felt huge to hold. Now it sat comfortably in his palm. Gold in color, the cover over the watch was engraved with vines and flowers along the outer edge, the middle free of detail to show the face of the clock behind it. Old World numerals ran around the outside, counting off each hour. The chain was still sturdy, and with it wrapped around his paw Nick opened the cover. It looked exactly like he remembered, yet time had long since meant that the hands had stopped turning. His father had wound it daily, adjusting the time to match the one above the fireplace in their living room. Nick did the same now, the hands coming to life, moving as smoothly as they had many years ago. Satisfied, he closed the cover and turned it over, knowing what he would find engraved on the gold back plate. 'Make every moment count – E. Wilde.'
Smoothing a paw over the engraving Nick smiled. As much as he wanted to sit and reminisce, to lose himself again in his father's words, he knew time was of the essence, and if he didn't shower now, they would be late for dinner. Leaving the note and pocket watch on the coffee table, for the time being, Nick made his way to the bathroom. He was careful to fold his new uniform once he'd removed it, leaving it by the bathroom door to take back to the bedroom once he was clean.
His shower only took five minutes, and it took another five for him to thoroughly dry and smooth down his fur. His coat was still a little thick due to the season, but he could feel it starting to thin out again. He couldn't wait to be rid of it – the extra fluff made his clothes a little more snug and made him feel too warm.
Picking up his uniform as he left the bathroom, Nick entered the bedroom, surprised to find Judy wasn't there. Though his hearing wasn't as good as his mate's, when he focused the tod picked up on the sound of his doe in the kitchen calling them a Zuber. Satisfied, the fox dressed quickly, picking out a pair of black slacks and a black shirt. The ensemble looked formal enough for Embers, but it was missing Nick's signature. Rummaging in the wardrobe, he soon emerged with a red tie, and with practiced ease, he fastened it around his neck with a Windsor knot.
Now dressed, Nick left his bedroom. Following Judy's scent, he found her in the living room rather than the kitchen. The tod froze when he clapped eyes on her, captivated by what he was seeing.
Large ears having picked up on Nick's approach, Judy turned to look at her mate, eager to see him dressed in something a little fancier than usual. The way his shirt clung to his body should've been illegal. She knew she wasn't very subtle in checking out her fox, but she found herself uncaring. Violet eyes took in the whole package, but it was only when she met Nick's gaze that her lust died. "Oh no, it's terrible isn't it? I told your mom it wouldn't suit me. I'll go find something else to wear…" She started to panic, paws moving to the red dress Marian had convinced her to buy as her ears dropped. It fell to mid-calf and had a sweetheart neckline, and was deep red in color. Marian had lent her a simple silver necklace with a single diamond hanging from it. It had been a present from Robert, and Judy had been honored that Marian had let her borrow it. The Hopps family had never had much money, and the ladies had never been one for jewelry.
"No." Nick barked, emerald eyes widening in panic at the thought of Judy changing out of her dress. "It's beautiful. Y-you're beautiful." Nick swallowed; admiring the way the red dress accentuated his mate's curves.
Ears springing back up at the compliment, the inside of them turned a light shade of pink as Judy blushed. The way Nick was looking at her made her flush. Never had another mammal looked at her in such a way before. "You don't scrub up too bad yourself, Slick." She offered in return, paws reaching for the little gift on the living room table. She'd purposefully ignored the letter and pocket watch when she'd entered the room, knowing it was none of her business and highly personal to her mate. He'd tell her about them when he was ready. "It's not much I'm afraid," she apologized, offering it to the tod. It hadn't been something she'd bought, but it would probably mean more to her fox than anything in any store.
Broken from his admiration of Judy, Nick took in the small gift she offered out to him. "Carrots…" He gently took it from her, not having expected anything. Sitting on the couch, he tore at the wrapping paper like a kit on Christmas morning as Judy took the seat beside him. Another black box greeted him and, curiosity piqued, the fox lifted the lid to find the gift inside.
If the letter and pocket watch had hit him like a truck, then the item inside the box he currently held hit him like a freight train. A familiar pair of cufflinks engraved with a compass greeted him, ones that had long ago graced the sleeves of his father, and his grandfather before him. "Where did you find these?" The fox pushed out the words, swallowing back his emotions. He'd already cried enough for one day.
"When I went back to your family business. While gathering the photos, I came across them in your dad's desk drawer." Judy answered, violet eyes locked on her fox as she watched every emotion flit across his handsome face. Finnick had helped her have them restored to their former glory, and amongst the initials of previous Wilde gentlemammals engraved on the back, she'd had Nick's initials added too.
Deftly plucking them from the box, the doe attached them to the cuffs of Nick's shirt, grateful for the ZooTube video she'd watched showing how to go about it. Cufflinks had never been a staple in the Hopps household. The polished silver complimented her tod's black shirt perfectly. "There's one more thing, wait here." Judy rose from the couch, darting into their bedroom.
Judy returned a few moments later. In her paws she clutched his red Junior Ranger Scouts neckerchief, clean and pressed, folded into a square. Standing in the 'v' of Nick's legs, Judy slowly tucked it into the breast pocket of his shirt, making sure the red fabric peeked out over the top. Thankfully it matched his tie. "I think it's time this made a reappearance, especially now you're finally part of a pack."
Nick's heart pounded against his chest. His old neckerchief, the one he'd tied around Judy's injured leg nine months ago, had carried around with him every day since his mother had given it to him when he'd been a kit. Judy had held on to it.
Feeling her small paws on his chest, rearranging the red neckerchief, Nick was overwhelmed with love for his sweet bunny. She'd done so much for him and had never expected anything in return. The tod could hear his fathers words rattle around his head. "Don't waste a second. Make every moment count."
It was instinctive. Nick's arms encircled Judy, bringing her closer. Honeysuckle and violets and his own scent flooded his nostrils and his vision was filled solely with her. "Judy." He whispered. Lifting a paw he smoothed down her ears, watching as she tipped her head in curiosity, her small paws still resting on his chest, little nose twitching as she tried to work out what was going on. He thought he'd be scared, terrified even, but a certainty had settled over him, and the moment was too perfect. "Will you marry me?"
Time stopped. Judy's mind went blank. "What?"
'What' was the right question. Nick asked himself the exact same thing. What the hell was he doing blurting out such a question? He'd been planning a considerable proposal - a date to the art gallery, dinner in the rooftop garden, and dancing under the stars before he went down on one knee. He hadn't planned to blurt out his proposal in the middle of their living room, ring box in the bedroom, and no grand speech prepared.
Luckily, even though he hadn't hustled for nearly a year now and had left that life behind, he couldn't erase years of ingrained behavior. When the demand for a speech occurred, he was able to meet it. "You know my life story already Fluff, a poor fox who got into hustling because society is cruel and he had a debt to pay. It's a classic tearjerker. However, what you don't know is what I thought of it," he said before taking a breath.
"Most of the time I liked it. Sure it wasn't the best life, it certainly had its downsides, but it made me feel good about myself. Hustling all those mammals made me feel smarter than them, and all the money I was making made me feel even better. True that most of the cash ended up going to Catstro, but I was so close to paying off the debt and then all that money would've been mine. I would've been rolling in it. I thought my life was perfect and had it all planned out." Nick shook his head, a small smile on his lips.
"But then a two-foot tall ball of fluff and optimism came crashing into my life, and she made me realize what a fool I was. She made me realize that my life wasn't perfect, that I could have more. That I could be more. And with her help, now my life truly is perfect. We have a home together; we've mated and bonded. I thought about waiting to ask, making some big grand gesture, but that's just not us." Once Nick started to speak he couldn't stop, and the words fled his lips before he dared silence them. 'You don't want to silence them, Wilde.'
Judy could hear Nick continuing to talk, but in her mind, his question played over and over in a continuous loop. Wide violet eyes stared at her fox's handsome face as he continued to talk, proclaiming his love. It was all too much. The sound of his voice, the thudding in her ears from the pounding of her heart. Her left paw shot out, grasping Nick's muzzle to clamp his jaw shut, silencing him. She needed a moment to get her thoughts straight.
Surprised at Judy silencing him, Nick blinked, but his shoulder's soon slumped and his gaze fell to the floor. Blurting out the question had been foolish; he should've waited a little longer. Silently berating himself for his error, he missed the multitude of emotions crossing Judy's face as she worked through her shock.
It took a moment for the rabbit to compose herself, but when she was sure she wouldn't pass out from shock or squeal like a kit, she began to talk. "You know, when we first crossed paths all those months ago, I never would've guessed we'd end up here. In all honesty, I never thought I'd end up here. I always thought that work would be my only love, that I would be committed to the job and the job alone. But you just had to come along, with your awful shirts and your snarky comments, and shake all that up. We've had our ups and downs Slick, that's for sure, but I wouldn't change it for the world. The best thing about my life is getting to share it with you." The doe brought up her free paw to lightly scratch under Nick's chin, enjoying the way his eyes closed and the corners of his lips turned upwards.
"Remember on the back porch, when I told you everything that I love about you? I meant it then, and I still mean it now." Judy made sure to ever so slightly tighten her grip on Nick's muzzle, wanting to drive the point home. "I still love the way your ridiculously fluffy tail wags when you're happy. I still love the way you tip your head sideways when you're confused, or how your eyes widen when I surprise you. I love the way you hold me when we sleep, and how our scents are now combined. I still love your voice and your ridiculous shirts, and I love that we now carry one another's marks. You're it for me, Nick." Inhaling deeply, the doe finally loosened her grip on the tod's muzzle. She knew her answer, had known it since the moment they'd agreed to bond. "Yes."
With her final words, emerald eyes snapped open, locking onto violet ones. "Yes?" He double-checked, voice muffled by Judy's loose grip on his snout. The small bob of confirmation from his doe and the sweet smile that crossed her lips had the tod's heart racing. He couldn't believe it. "The ring!"
Making use of his academy training, Nick caught Judy off guard, scooping her up in his arms, dislodging her paw from his snout. Her squeal of surprise made him chuckle as he carried her to their bedroom, depositing her safely onto their bed. Moving to the night stand on his side of the bed, the fox rummaged at the back of the bottom drawer, looking for the little black box. Finding it, he concealed it in his paw before he turned to see the quizzical expression on Judy's face. He closed the distance between them, before dropping to one knee, cracking open the black box. "Properly this time." A strange sense of nervousness swept over him. Judy had already said yes, what was there to worry about? "Judith Laverne Hopps, will you marry me?"
Though the temptation was there to draw the moment out and to make her fox sweat a little, the doe was unable to stop the fierce nodding of her head and the broad grin that crossed her face. "Will I marry you? Why yes, yes I will."
Relief coursed through the tod's veins and, reaching for Judy's left paw, he slipped the silver band onto her finger. Mr. Jackson had followed his design to the letter. The ring was simple, a silver band with a beautiful solitary diamond, but he'd had the inside of it engraved with their pawprints, a private reminder of the journey they'd been on together so far. "I love you, Judy." Nick would happily tell her every day how much she meant to him. Ring firmly in place, the fox had expected his doe to spend more than a few seconds looking down at it, but instead, her attention was focused on him. Nick watched as Judy's whole face lit up at his words, her paws moving to grasp his muzzle once more, pulling him into a passionate kiss.
"I love you too, Nick." The doe whispered in return when she finally had to pull back for air. Her body was working on autopilot, brain unable to focus on anything other than her mate.
Tipping her head to look into the emerald eyes that were so familiar to her, Judy felt a wash of contentment roll over her. They were a team in every sense of the word; they'd kick tail and take names at work, make the world a better place, and come home to spend time in one another's arms.
They'd come a long way, from hustling one another to solving the ZPD's most high profile case, falling out and making up, to arresting Bellwether and Nick finally getting his badge. Somewhere along the way they'd fallen in love too, pulled together by fate or destiny, drawn to one another like a moth to a flame. The dumb fox and the sly bunny.
A/N and that's all folks! Oh my gosh this has been a rollercoaster of a journey, and it's been just over a year since I started this story and look at how it's grown. It's all down to you guys! I couldn't be more touched by the amount of love and encouragement I've received from you all since the very beginning, and I don't think I can adequately put into words how I feel because I'm still in awe of it all, but from the bottom of my heart thank you so, so, so much!
This story has put me in contact with so many amazing and talented people in this fandom, I've met a few not so great ones too but we'll gloss over that, and it even led to me meeting my boyfriend. Crazy how much one little thing can change your life.
For those of you curious, I do have plans for a sequel in the future, but I'm not sure on when that'll be. We'll see what my muse decides!
Until next time.
~ Ophelia xx