A Solemn Day ~ Veterans Day

A/N: As a vet, this was a bit difficult to write. I've lost friends, classmates and relatives in battle, and this seems like an insignificant way to honor those brave souls who gave so much, but it's about the best I can do.

XxX

As the week draws to a close, Nick notices that Judy begins to withdraw from their usual playful banter a bit more each day. Deciding that it's best to wait until they get home before mentioning anything, Nick volunteers to drive.

As they enter their home, they're greeted by Ronald and Angela along with Victoria, Nicks mother, who has been kitsitting their two very rambunctious kits.

As the pair gather their kits into tight hugs, Nick sees tears forming in Judy's amethyst eyes, as he seems to hug Ron just a bit tighter than usual.

"Ok Fluff, what's up? You've been getting down in the dumps all week, and I'm getting kinda concerned about my favorite bunny."

"Nick" scolds his mom "don't you know what special day is almost upon us? Really?"

With an unusual look on his muzzle, which seems to be half smirk and half sadness "Of course I do. How could I not know what a special day it is for us, especially for Judy and…Ronald. You surely didn't think I could be so forgetful and callous as to not think about Veterans Day did you? In fact, I managed to make sure we both got that weekend off so we can all go to Bunnyburrow, and yes mom, you're invited as well. You know I'd never leave you out right?"

"Damn it Nick, why didn't you say something earlier?" asked a slightly miffed Judy.

"Well, I put in the request two weeks ago but it wasn't approved until this morning, and I didn't want to get your hopes up just to see you disappointed at the last minute. I would have told you earlier if I could have… I was actually going to surprise you with the news when we got home, so…surprise. Owwww."

"You know ya deserved that right? Ya big dumb fox, next time let me know when you're going to do something like that...please."

"Yea, yea, yea…now, would you like to know the rest of the surprise, or do ya wanna wait?"

"There's more?"

"Of course, and mom, I think you'll like this as well. I've contacted the Roaring Thunder chapter and they've committed to doing a complete honoring ceremony. Presentation of colors, twenty one gun salute, taps - everything. And yes mom, Jason Silver will definitely be with them."

"Owww, what on earth is that for, for crying out loud?" as Nick gets pounded on both shoulders at once "Especially from both of you?"

As Judy and Victoria both gather Nick into a fierce hug "Thanks so much Nick, I don't know what to say" says Judy quietly.

"No need to say anything Fluff, you know that family always comes first."

"Nick" says Judy "you have no idea how much this means to me…thank you" as she kisses her husband lightly.

"Oh, I think I do. I know that you and Ronald were close, and that you missed him more than you thought. How can I love you and not realize how close you were and how much he meant to you? It's the very least I could do.'
'I've also requested the Bunnyburrow VFW and a few other vets groups to be part of the ceremony. They always have a ceremony at the vet's cemetery, but they've agreed to be a part of the honoring ceremony as well. And yes, your parent's have been informed about the ceremony. I made sure to let them know at the time that nothing was set for sure, but we can call them anytime and let them know that it's been finalized."

"What time will all of this be starting?" asked Victoria, as Judy was still busy drying her tears.

"We need to be at the vet's cemetery at eight thirty on Saturday morning. The Roaring Thunder bunch and everyone else who's coming is scheduled to roll in around eight forty and the ceremony is supposed to start at nine."

0700 ~ Friday, November 10 – ZPD bullpen

As assignments are handed out, Nick and Judy notice that they are the very last to receive theirs. "Wilde and Wilde…my office…now."

Looking at each other, they both have the same thought 'What now?'

Taking their usual (and all too familiar) place together in an oversized chair they can't help but exchange worried glances.

Instead of his normal position of sitting behind his massive desk, Chief Bogo stood directly in front of the pair and wore an expression that neither had ever seen. Pain.

"I know you're both wondering what you're in trouble for this time…the answer is simple, nothing. Judy, thanks to Nick I know that you and your entire family are going to Bunnyburrow for Veteran's Day especially with my godson Ronald. You may or may not know that I served in the military before I moved to Zootopia and became a cop. I know the pain of loss that you feel only too well having been in combat myself. I feel it every day when I send all of you out on patrol, knowing the dangers that exist. That's one reason why I was so hesitant to keep you both on as partners. It's also why I pushed so hard to get you both the entire weekend off, starting right now. Now, get out…and be careful. Dismissed."

Totally stunned, both stand attention and salute the chief "Yes sir!" before they leave the office.

"I guess we need to call mom and let her know we'll be leaving early today" ventured Nick.

"It'll give us plenty of time to finish packing and we can drive instead of taking the train" returns Judy. "We'll need to let mom and dad know we'll be arriving early as well."

"You call your parents and I'll call mom, sound good?"

JUDY: "Hey mom, just so you know, we'll be leaving early today, Bogo gave us the day off. Yea, I know it's unusual, but we found out that he was in the military before he became a cop, so he appreciates the situation we're in. No, I'm not sure what time we'll leave, probably around noon, and we've decided to drive out since we have the extra time. Besides, it'll be better with the kits and Victoria all coming along. We'll give you a call before we leave so you can have stuff ready when we get there, ok? Love you, bye."

NICK: "…Hello? Mom…are you there? Mom?"

"DA"

"Angie, what are you doing with MaMaw's phone?"

"Nutin' DA."

"Will you please put MaMaw on, DA needs to talk to her."

"'K DA."

Noticing Judy's smirk "Yea, I know already, she's every bit my daughter, ok? What you didn't steal of my heart, she got the rest. So, sue me already."

"Nick, why are you calling already, is something the matter?"

"No mom, everything's fine. Bogo gave us the day off is all. We're headed home, is there anything you can think of that we might need for the trip? We figured that since we have the extra time we'd just drive, that way we can leave as early or late as we want to on Sunday."

"That's wonderful news Nick. No, I can't think of anything offhand. I'll start getting everything together so we can leave as early as you want. It'll be great to see Stu and Bonnie again. We haven't been back to Bunnyburrow since just after the kits were born."

"Ok, we'll see you all when we get home. And please, don't give the kits any candy, the trip is going to be enough of an adventure as it is."

"Ummm, well, it's kinda late for that now, but no more until we get to the burrows…"

"MOM…"

"Ok, I get it already. But still, you can't blame me for wanting to spoil my only grandkits…"

The trip to Bunnyburrow was uneventful by Wilde standards. At the start of the trip the kits were still a bit cranked up on a sugar high. By about an hour into the trip, Victoria got the kits to relax and finally to nap by gently stroking their ears. The trick seemed to always worked on Nick when he was a kit, and she later found out that it worked on Judy as well…unless it was Nick who happened to be doing the stroking… (which is a story for another time).

Pulling into the drive in front of the Hopps burrow, they were greeted by Bonnie and the usual sea of furry bunnies, young and old. Leading the charge of course, were Abigail, Avery, Ayana and Lillabeth, Judy's sisters kits, who immediately launched themselves at Nick. Bracing for the impact, Nick was barely able to overcome the weight of the four kits, and managed to keep standing upright.

"Ok you guys, I'm glad to see you too. Where's your mom and Gideon?"

"Mom and dad are still workin' at the store. Granny Bonnie is watchin' us" volunteered Abigail.

Nick and Judy looked at each other, smiling. "I guess they've pretty much accepted Gid as their new dad" observed Nick.

"Can the kits play with us Uncle Nick?" inquired Ayana.

"Of course, but I have a special job for you Stinker, if you want it."

"Really? What is it?" Ayana asked.

"I need you to keep a close eye on them, especially Angie, she likes to get into trouble. Can you do that for me? I'll give you a carrot flavored Pawpsicle if you do a good job."

"Really? Sure." And with that she took charge of the kits and they all disappeared.

Giving Nick a questioning look, Bonnie asked "Nick, why of all the kits did you ask Ayana to keep Angie out of trouble? You know she's the biggest trouble maker of the bunch."

Wearing his patented smirk "What better way to keep her out of trouble than to watch another troublemaker? Especially with a promised reward if she does a good job? It's called a hustle, Bonnie"

"I can see why Jude calls you Slick now" admitted Bonnie.

"Flattery will get you anywhere my dear" responded Nick bouncing his eyebrows, which caused Bonnie to blush slightly.

"O-ok, let's all go in and get a bite to eat while the kits are playing" Bonnie stammered, much to the amusement of Judy and Victoria.

After catching a quick bite, Nick and Judy headed towards the rooms that Stu had made just for them after he found out that Judy was having kits, to have quick cuddle and a brief nap. There were actually three fairly spacious rooms, two bedrooms ~ one for the kits and one for Nick and Judy, and a sort of living room or common room, much like the main burrow has.

There was also another guest room just down the hall, slightly larger than the ones normally found in the burrow, just for someone Victoria's size.

About an hour later as the kits begin to trickle into the burrow, Bonnie and Judy are pleasantly surprised when Ayana proudly returns paw in paw with Angela in tow, followed closely by several other kits and Ronald.

"We din' get inta no troubles" announces Ayana.

Giving the mildly astonished ladies a snarky look Nick tells Ayana "You go tell PaPa Stu to get one of those carrot Pawpsicles for you, and tell him I sad it's ok."

"'K, thanks" and left before anyone could say a word.

"Well, I'll be dipped in blueberry jam" began Judy…

"Again?" remarked Nick, who immediately got the answer he sought. "Owww"

"Damn it Nick…"

Which got all of the adults in the room laughing, while most of the kits just looked at them sideways, wondering what was so funny, the few that understood just blushed and quickly left.

Since everything was going to be starting fairly early the next morning, everyone said their goodnights and headed to their respective rooms to settle in for the evening.

"Nick….Nick…NICK."

"Mmmmmm…whut?"

"Nick, we need to get up and start getting the kits ready, it's already six."

Looking at the dreary sky outside through the single window "Are you sure this is going to happen, it looks like rain" he laments.

"You're the one who told me that they'd be here rain or shine" she reminded him.

Revealing a smirk of her own "If you don't get up right this minute, I'll tell Angie that DA needs his tail hugged."

"Oh come on, now you're just being mean" her husband complained.

"Deal with it fox" was her only reply.

Ok, ok, ok, I'm up."

As the pair quickly showered and then started getting the kits ready, Nick noticed a tear in his favorite bunny's eye. "You gonna be ok there Fluff?"

"Yea, I guess the day's just startin' to get' to me a bit is all" replies Judy as she dresses Ronald.

When Nick notices the ID tag that Judy wears around her neck every day, he takes her into his arms and gives her a soft hug and a gentle kiss just between her ears. I'll be ok Judy, Ron 's watching out for all of us, he'll make sure everything's ok."

"Do you really think so Nick? No bullshit?"

Smiling all he can say is "Yes, absolutely, one hundred percent."

Hearing the phrase reminded her of the first time they worked together, neither of them being cops at the time (she resigned remember?). "Silly fox… thanks Nick, I guess I need that."

"Ok, let's finish getting ready, I'm sure they're waiting breakfast for us.

After a quick breakfast, the entire Hopps family and the Wildes head for the veteran's cemetery. As they arrive, they notice that a small cover has been set up, just large enough for Stu, Bonnie, Victoria, Nick, Judy and the kits to be seated under.

Off to one side, there stands a rifle team and the color guard. Just as everyone is seated, they hear the unmistakable rumble of many motorcycle engines. As the procession rolled slowly past, Judy recognized Roaring Thunder leading the pack of riders. After Roaring Thunder there were more vets groups, Combat Vets, Legion Riders, Patriot Guard, and others she didn't recognize, all proudly displaying the Stars and Stripes of the Zootopian national flag and the POW/MIA flag as well.

As the riders stop and dismount their bikes, a gentle rain begins to fall, which deters the vets not one bit. They form ranks to the side of the guests of honor and stand at parade rest.

As commands are given to the honor guard they are marched to the left side of the guests, stop and present colors. The rifle team takes commands and fires a twenty one gun salute and return to their starting position after the playing of taps.

A small podium is set in front of the assembled guests, and Roaring Thunder President Kevin Dewclaw begins a short presentation "Greetings all. Normally I would be the one doing the speaking at this occasion, however, since there is a member of the chapter has served with the veteran being honored here today, we feel it only proper that he be the doing the presentation. Staff Sergeant Jason Silver, front and center."

"Staff Sergeant Silver, reporting as ordered" remarks Silver.

Taking his place at the podium SSG Silver begins… "It was my honor to have served with Lance Corporal Hopps. He unselfishly gave his life to save my life and the lives of three other Marines. When asked by Mister Wilde to have our chapter attend the ceremony today, there was no way I could in good conscience refuse. After conducting some research, I found that a grave injustice has been done to the Hopps family, and I stand before you to right that wrong.'
'Sergeant-at-arms, step forward."

Turning to the assembled crowd, Silver continued "Mister and Missus Hopps, I present to you, the flag that covered your son's casket when he was returned to Bunnyburrow. It was mistakenly taken back to depot and stored" as he stepped forward and hands the folded flag which is housed in a special display case, with a gold star emblazoned on the front to Stu he continues.

"In addition, please accept these medals that he was awarded posthumously for his bravery. They include the Bronze Star, awarded to any mammal who, while serving in any capacity with the armed Forces, distinguishes himself after 6 December 1941, by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, and the Purple Heart, awarded to members of the Armed Forces while serving under competent authority in any capacity, who has been killed or wounded.'
'As a Marine who served with Lance Corporal Hopps, I feel it is my personal duty to deliver a proper eulogy for a fellow Marine.'
"May the Valkyries welcome you and lead you through Odin's great battlefield. May they sing your name with love and fury, so that we might hear it rise from the depths of Valhalla and know that you've taken your rightful place at the table of Kings. For a great mammal has fallen: A warrior. A chieftain. A father. A brother. A friend."

"Before I conclude, I have two more awards I would like to present."

Turning and receiving another folded flag he continues "Judith Laverne HoppsWilde, I present you with this flag that has flown over the headquarters of the unit that we were stationed at while on active duty, along with a unit photograph of the entire squad shortly before our last engagement, signed by all surviving members.'
'Ronald Johnathan Wilde, I am honored to present to you, the actual unit patch that your namesake was wearing that fateful day." With that, Silver did and about face and retreated from the podium.

Although the small kit had no understanding of the day's events, he did understand that whatever the thing that he was given, it was important and treated it as such.

As Roaring Thunder president Dewclaw returns to the podium his closing remarks go thusly "To conclude todays ceremonies, I would like to leave everyone assembled here with one simple thought…we in the military do not see fur color. It makes no difference if you have red fur or black fur, brown fur or white fur, the only color we see is green, for we are all brother and sisters underneath. When we bleed, we all bleed red. That is why it is such an honor to be here today, for we remain brothers and sisters in life and in death. Thank you."

As some members of the vets groups depart, Judy notices that some are walking among the headstones placing coins on top of some, especially Silver at her brothers' grave.

"Excuse me" she begins "but I've noticed coins on headstones before, can you tell me why they're left there?"

Giving the curious doe a sad smile Silver explains "A coin left on a headstone lets the deceased soldier's family know that somebody stopped by to pay their respects.'
' Leaving a penny means you visited.'
'A nickel means that you and the deceased soldier trained at boot camp together.'
'If you served with the soldier, you leave a dime.'
'A quarter is very significant because it means that you were there when that soldier was killed. There's no way I could be here, today of all days, and not honor Ron."

"So what happens to the coins afterwards?"

"They're collected and the money is used for cemetery maintenance, the cost of burial for soldiers, or the care for indigent soldiers. Supposedly the tradition became popular during the Vietnam War. It is believed it was a way to show respect without getting into an uncomfortable political discussion about a war that was very controversial."

"I see, thank you so much for being here, it really means a lot. Now, I think there seems to be a vixen who would like a bit of attention…"

"Yea, about that, ummm Nick…"

"Don't worry Jason, mom's grown, and I think you two would do well together. Go on dude…"

After leaving the cemetery, Victoria said her goodbyes to the families, as she was riding back to Zootopia with Silver, especially since the rain had stopped and the skies we clearing.

"Mom, I know Jason'll be careful, but you be careful as well ok?"

"Ok worrywart, I will. You guys be careful going home tomorrow as well, promise?"

Rolling his eyes and smiling, "Yes mom…. Just be safe, we'll see you soon, Monday most likely."

As the families return to the burrow, the sun shines brightly, chasing away the somber mood that gripped the day earlier.

The rest of the day was spent just relaxing and preparing for the return trip to Zootopia.

As Nick and Judy finish putting the kits to bed that evening and prepare for bed themselves, Judy kisses Nick lightly on the cheek "Thanks for arranging all of this Nick. Veterans Day has always been special for my family, but you really managed to make it extra special for all of us this year. How can I ever thank you enough for all of this?"

"Well, how about we discuss that a bit after we get home? There are a few too many big ears around here for what I have in mind…"

"Why, you nasty old fox you… I do like the way you think dear…"

XxX

AGAIN, MANY THANKS TO ALL WHO HAVE SERVED. STAY WELL MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, PLEASE SEEK THE HELP YOU MAY NEED, 22 A DAY IS TOO MANY TO LOSE, ONE AT ALL IS STILL TOO MANY.

PEACE,
GHOSTWOLF88