A/N: Everything here is very loosely based on how I became engaged to my husband. The general idea of how it happened for us just seemed to fit so well for Nick and Judy, too. Couldn't resist.
You know, I think this is the fluffiest and most saccharine thing I've yet written, and I… I don't know what to do with myself now. I feel giddy and yet mildly uncomfortable.
Anyway, I have a wonderful prequel idea for this that I will write someday.
Nick forced his tail to stop twitching so that he could give the illusion that he was waiting patiently for Judy to finish her paperwork and head out to dinner. Despite his lackadaisical mannerisms, he actually hated being patient.
After glancing at the time on his phone, he couldn't help but try to prod the bunny a bit. "Carrots, if you're trying to beat out Flash as the slowest writer ever, you may want to slow down just a little more. You're still a solid contender, though."
"I'm going as fast as I can," she mumbled while setting aside a completed report and grabbing another one.
"You always put too much detail into them," Nick said, squashing down a sigh. "That's why it takes you so long."
"You never know what could be important," Judy replied. She paused just long enough to quirk a smug brow at him. "If you had paid more attention to details, I wouldn't have been able to hustle you into helping me find Otterton."
Nick grinned at the memory. "And that turned out to be the catalyst for some of the best things that have ever happened to me. Details aren't all they're cracked up to be, sweetheart."
Judy only shook her head and chuckled.
A few minutes later, she finally finished everything and dropped off her bundle at Bogo's office. After punching out, they left the precinct with their paws intertwined, walking in the direction of a new restaurant they'd decided to try out. By then, Nick's mind had wandered naturally from the subject of Judy's blackmail to memories of his hustling days. From there, he found himself becoming acutely aware of the nakedness of Judy's fingers; no ring adorned any of them. It bothered him.
Dozens of times had he tried to use his old techniques for reading other mammals—once a source of great pride for him—to figure out whether she even wanted a ring from him, but he was never sure. Maybe he couldn't figure it out because he was sabotaging himself, too afraid of ruining everything by being wrong. Or maybe an honest life with his honest partner had simply softened him up too much.
"Oh, look at the sunset, Nick!" Judy burst as they started taking a shortcut through a public park with an exceptional view of the horizon at the edge of the sea, tugging Nick along as she hurried toward the railing of a bridge overlooking a babbling stream. She pressed her back against him and rested her paws on his arms as he slid them around her waist from behind. Quietly, they admired the rich, fiery colors of the sky as it sank slowly into darkness. It did seem especially brilliant today.
His mind meandering back toward his previous thoughts, Nick realized that one thing couldn't be denied—the closer he got to Judy, the more havoc she wrought on his hustler instincts. If he weren't so grateful to be able to share his vulnerability with her, he would probably scoff at the undeniable fact that she was his weakness.
Still, it was certainly going to make this conversation more difficult. He'd avoid it if he could, but six months of dating out of two years of being in love with her had worn him down.
He had to know.
"Hey, Carrots, let me ask you something," Nick started, then hesitated. In the corner of his eye, he saw her peer upward and gaze expectantly him, and he forced himself to continue after clearing his throat. "Where do you… Where do you see this relationship going?"
He ignored the way that his cheeks flushed as he looked at her to gauge her reaction. Her nose twitched a bit, and she blinked at him once, twice.
"Isn't it obvious?" she queried in a bewildered tone.
"If it were, I wouldn't be asking," Nick scowled a little. "That's how questions work, you know."
Judy studied him with an expression he couldn't read, which was disconcerting. "Well, where do you see it going?" she asked.
That was unexpected. Drawing in a slow breath, Nick considered his possible answers for a moment. It was crucial that he be honest, of course, but if the two of them weren't on the same page, he feared that the truth would scare her away—and the very idea roughly yanked his stomach into all kinds of painful knots.
Gulping internally, he said slowly, "I'm happy with the way things are now, but I'd like to progress to new levels. You know, something to solidify our… commitment." Hastily, he added, "But that depends on what you want. So tell me what you're thinking."
There. He hoped that was careful yet candid enough for her.
The silence that ensued was thick with his own apprehension, although Judy's face maintained its blankness. Just before Nick started to think that he should just awkwardly shuffle away, she smiled and settled herself against his chest, grabbing his arms and crisscrossing them across the front of her torso. "I understand, Nick. Let me think about it, and I'll get back to you soon, okay?"
Nick let out a breath. It wasn't an affirmation that she wanted the same thing he did, but it gave him hope nevertheless, and he would take that. He rested his chin in the space between her ears and returned to watching the sunset with her. "Of course, Carrots," he murmured. "Sounds good."
Now to be patient. Nick hated being patient.
Two days later…
"This has been the longest shift of my illustrious career so far," Nick yawned and slouched in his seat. He and Judy were sitting in the squad car, watching for any suspicious activity on the streets of Savanna Central after a full day absolutely devoid of excitement. "I'm so ready for a pizza and movie night."
He heard Judy draw a breath beside him, but she didn't speak. Turning to her, he saw that she was chewing her lower lip. "Is something wrong, Carrots?" he asked.
"Well, uh," she stammered, "I-I actually can't make it for movie night."
This was news to Nick. His eyebrows crashed together as he straightened. "Why not?"
"Because I'm applying for a second job," she said quickly, keeping her eyes trained on the streets instead of looking at him.
A beat passed as Nick processed this information. "A second job?" he parroted incredulously.
"Yep," Judy answered simply.
Nick stared. "Full-time or part-time?"
"Why on earth would you need a second full-time job?" he queried, surprised by how annoyed he felt that he'd had no idea she was even considering such a big decision that would affect them both.
"Because I do," Judy evaded.
"Well, where are you applying?"
She waved a paw absentmindedly. "Some entrepreneurial establishment. I forget the name."
"You're applying to a company whose name you can't even remember?!" Nick exclaimed.
"Oh, relax," Judy replied, rolling her eyes. "I know where it is. I'll tell you what it's called after my interview."
The fox threw up his paws, tempted to just give up on the conversation already, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. "Is it money? Do you need more money?" he pressed.
"No, nothing like that."
"Then what do you need? What could you possibly need?"
To that, Judy only shrugged. "It's just something I want to do."
The sheer frustration that coursed through Nick at her dismissiveness made his eyes bulge.
"You'll exhaust yourself with two jobs," he pointed out.
She briefly glanced at him with narrowed eyes. "I can take care of myself, thanks."
"I know you can, that's not what I—" Nick clamped his mouth shut. Then he went with a different train of thought. "So when are we going to see each other?" he asked testily. "Did you think about that?"
Judy furrowed her brows at him. "We work together all day several days a week."
Rolling his eyes, Nick retorted, "That's not the same, and you know it." A thought occurred to him, and he pinched his nose with a ragged sigh, chest suddenly heavy with fresh fear. "Is this about our conversation the other day? Are you avoiding me now? Because I thought we were fine."
She didn't answer right away. He looked up to find her studying him with gentle eyes. Normally, he would happily get lost in them, but right now, they just irritated him.
"I'm doing this for us, Nick," she said. "I promise it will be worth it." With a small smile, she added, "Please trust me."
Well, years of hustling had taught the fox how to know when to quit. He fixed his stare out the window, resting his elbow against the door and propping his forehead up with the palm of his paw.
"Can I do anything to help you get the job, then?" he grumbled.
He heard the rustle of Judy shaking her head as she sweetly answered, "No, Slick, but thanks for offering."
Neither of them said another word for the blessedly short remainder of their shift.
A few hours later…
Slouching on his couch in his t-shirt and boxers, Nick glowered at the TV mounted on his wall, tapping a claw impatiently against the empty soda can in his paw. Movie night was boring without his bunny. Still, it was distracting enough to keep him from wondering too much about this second job of hers and why she was being so evasive about it. He knew how paranoid it sounded, but he couldn't help thinking that her abrupt and secretive decision coincided a little too closely with their conversation about the future of their relationship. Her smile and embrace had comforted him at the time. Now he bitterly wondered if trying not to screw things up had only caused him to screw them up anyway.
Dumb fox, he remonstrated himself.
Well, nothing to do now but wait patiently for her to explain what was going through her mind.
Nick hated being patient.
A few light and chipper knocks at the door broke him from his thoughts. Wincing, he knew that it could only mean one mammal. Of course, part of him was relieved and grateful that she had come, but another part of him wasn't sure he was in the mood to handle everything that she would make him feel. Still, he could never turn her away.
"Coming," he called, switching the TV off and throwing his soda can in the trash before ambling to the door. He opened it just enough to see Judy's smiling self, dressed in a rich blue form-fitting button-up shirt and black pencil skirt with decorative buttons lining the thighs. It was tasteful, classy, and accentuated all her best features. Even the shade of the shirt somehow highlighted and deepened the lovely violet of her eyes.
The sight of her dressed up like that provoked a lurch in Nick's heart, but his sigh died before it could rise from his chest when he realized that she wasn't just wearing one of her typical cheerful expressions; she looked downright proud of herself. Intrigued, he pulled the door all the way open.
She spoke before he could.
"Hello! Is this Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated?" she asked brightly.
Nick could only stare blankly. After a moment, Judy barreled on.
"Oh, good, because I'm here to turn in my application for the open position," she declared, handing Nick two sheets of stapled paper with a flourish.
Confused, he took them from her hesitantly, searching her face for clarity before glancing down to read the first page. It said:
NICK WILDE HUSTLING, INCORPORATED
Application for Employment
Full Name: Judith Laverne Hopps
Other/previous names: Judy, Carrots, Fluff
Species: Sly bunny
Position for which you are applying: Wife
Full-time, part-time, or temporary: Full-time, duh
Relevant job history:
Age 16: Dated Billy Dale for two weeks, broke up because the novelty wore off and left nothing to keep the relationship going
Age 17-18: Dated Harry Foote, broke up because we wanted different things in life
Age 19: Went on one disastrous date with Josh Wood, had to kick him in the groin for being a pervert
Age 25-present: Dating Nick Wilde, no plans to break up
Please describe your qualifications.
Nick and I have known each other for about two years now. We've been dating for the last six months of those two years. I'm a loyal companion, always ready to stand by him in everything he does. His happiness and well-being are my top priorities, even if it means sacrificing my own. I think I'm a pretty great kisser, too. Also, I'm a decent hustler. :)
Most importantly, I'm madly in love with him.
Please sign your name below to indicate that all information provided is true and correct as far as your knowledge permits.
A warm smile had crept across Nick's muzzle by the time he got to the end of the top sheet. Yet again, she'd hustled him good.
When he turned his eyes back to Judy, he found her rocking back and forth on her heels with her paws behind her back, a goofy closed-mouthed grin pasted on her face. After a moment, she stopped and peeked at him coyly from beneath her eyelashes, something that always had the intended effect of making Nick want to kiss her.
"Is there time for an interview today?" she inquired.
Nick raised one brow dubiously. "I don't have any—"
He was interrupted by her tapping on the stapled sheets in his hands. He flipped to the second page to find a list of interview questions.
At that, he couldn't help but chuckle. With the ease of two decades of practice, he slipped quickly into a persona befitting the situation, straightening his back and shoulders while adopting an exaggeratedly professional tone.
"As a matter of fact, Mr. Wilde does have an opening today. I'm sure we can squeeze you in." He stepped aside and swept his arm toward the interior of the apartment. "Please have a seat in the lobby. I'll inform Mr. Wilde that you're here. He'll be right with you."
"Thank you, sir!" Judy said as she bounced inside. Nick watched as she settled herself on one of the couches, after which he shuffled past her and disappeared into his bedroom. A few minutes later, he came out in a white button-up shirt, black slacks, and tie with diagonal scarlet and black stripes.
Noticing the way that Judy eyed him appreciatively, Nick smirked as he crossed into the kitchen and dragged his small dining table and then the two chairs into the living room. He placed the table close to the wall opposite the couch where Judy sat. One chair went against the wall, and the other was put across from it. Once he was satisfied with their positions, he placed the stapled papers Judy had given him in the middle of the table, then retrieved a mug, filled it with pens, and set it in the far corner. He nearly sat down before he remembered that he happened to own an old landline phone. Mentally congratulating himself on having a use for some of the random junk he had accumulated over the years, he hurried to grab it from under his bed and positioned it on the other far corner of the table adjacent to the mug. Finally, he lowered himself onto the chair facing Judy, cleared his throat dramatically, and pressed a random button on the phone.
"Please tell Miss Hopps that I will see her now," he announced.
Only then did he remember that he was also playing the part of the secretary. Feeling a little silly, he stood and walked to where Judy sat with her paws half-concealing her delighted smile. With a small, polite bow, he said, "Mr. Wilde will see you now, Miss Hopps. Please follow me."
Judy obliged, trailing behind Nick in the short distance to the dining table on the other side of the room. She sat in the chair nearest her, the back facing the open room, while Nick once again took the chair against the wall. When they were both settled, Nick intertwined his paws together and met Judy's enthusiastic grin with a smile of his own.
"Welcome to Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated, Miss Hopps," Nick said. "Thanks for coming in for an interview."
"It was my pleasure," Judy replied graciously. "I love what you've done with your office."
"Yes, we've recently redecorated." Nick allowed himself to smirk a little wider when Judy snorted and giggled. "Are you ready to get started?"
"Ready," she nodded resolutely, back straightening, her demeanor suddenly all business.
"Great." Making a show of pretending to shuffle the papers on the table, Nick took his time turning to the second page and folding the stapled corner to make it stay put. "Let's see. First question. Where do you see yourself in five years?"
With the air of confident recitation, Judy answered. "Well, I have long-term goals with Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated. If I get this position, I imagine I'll still be here in five years, building a life with Nick in whatever way we want and preparing for the next five years, repeating that cycle every five years until one of us dies."
The warmth spreading throughout Nick's chest was already threatening to overwhelm him. He had no idea how he would make it through this fake interview without pouncing on the bunny and smothering her in kisses. Not trusting himself to respond directly to her words, he cleared his throat and looked at the next question. "What sets you apart from other potential candidates for this position at Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated?"
A frown rippled briefly across Judy's face, as though the fact that other possible candidates existed in the first place was unacceptable. Before Nick could remind her that she was the one who came up with these questions, she answered.
"I think most mammals would say that my ability to commit wholeheartedly to something, no matter how hard or even impossible it seems, is one of the things that makes me stand out," she said. "When I make up my mind about something, it's as good as done. I'm determined to give Nick the absolutely wonderful life that he deserves, so if I become his wife, that's exactly what will happen. I'll make sure of it."
Her response and that serious look on her face were both so adorable that Nick had to squeeze his fists and dig his toes into the carpet to keep from launching himself at her right then and there. He covered up his inability to speak without his voice croaking by nodding thoughtfully several times, then finally moved on to the next question. "Do you have any concerns about your ability to complete the functions required for this position?"
Not sure what to think of this question—it seemed to him like an excuse for Judy to dwell on her shortcomings and mistakes—Nick turned his attention back to the bunny and felt a twinge of dismay to find that her ears had fallen behind her head as she prepared to recite her answer.
"I can be stubborn and thoughtless at times," she admitted quietly as she studied her paws in her lap. "And I've already hurt him horribly in the past. It's a miracle that he forgave me, and I'm afraid—terrified, even—of hurting him again." After a moment, she brought her eyes back up to meet his. "The best I can do is promise that when I mess up, I'll do everything I can to make things right."
This time, Nick simply couldn't let it go without replying himself. Granting her his warmest smile, he said, "It's the best anyone could expect and more than enough for me. No one's perfect, so don't be too hard on yourself." When she bestowed a genuinely grateful smile upon him, he added, "But since we're on the topic of things that might keep you from fulfilling the functions of this position, I also have it on good authority that you can be a bit reckless. I assure you that there's nothing that would bother me more than to see you hurt or worse, so keep that in mind. You can't do your job here if you're…"
He trailed off, unable to bring himself to say the d-word right now. Instead, he resorted to waving his paw in the air as though trying to push it away.
Judy nodded and let out a modest laugh. "Okay, I get it."
Appeased, Nick read the next question. "Why do you want this position?"
"Oh, this is my favorite question! That's why I saved it for last." Judy bounced excitedly in her seat for a second. "It's because Nick is the most amazing mammal I know. He's brave, loyal, thoughtful, generous, strong, so smart, fun, supportive, talented, and handsome, and—"
She had to stop herself as the telltale gleam of moisture appeared in her eyes. Nick was too busy reeling from the sudden onslaught of praise to fill the moment of silence, and she soon resumed.
"He's my best friend." Her voice was choked with emotion, and Nick's heart throbbed in response. "I can talk to him about anything, he's patient with my flaws and mistakes, and he always has my back. He makes me a better mammal. He makes me happy, too. Incredibly happy. Without fail, he's the best part of every day. I want the privilege of having him as an even more positive influence in my life in a way that only marriage can achieve, but I also want to be the mammal who makes him happiest. I want to be the one beside him every morning and every night, helping him make his dreams come true, laughing and crying with him, just—just being with him. When I'm with him, I'm happy just to be.
"You know," she went on, a couple of tears falling from her eyes and sliding to a halt on the curve of her grin, "sometimes, I think to myself, 'No matter what else happens today, if I make him smile just once, it will be a good day.' It's actually one of my daily goals. Whenever I make it happen, I feel like—" she paused, considering her words. "I feel like if that's all I ever really do to make the world a better place, it's worth it. And that's what I want life to be like for both of us every day."
Well, if surges of pure, potent, and unbridled love could kill, Nick would be dead ten times over by now. He set his elbows on the table and held his forehead in his paws, just trying to process the emotions that were overtaking him. Judy waited silently, much to his appreciation.
Only after a couple of minutes had passed did he feel prepared to keep up the charade of this interview. When he finally straightened and saw her gazing at him—her perfect, lovely face wearing a soft expression that inspired explosions in his heart—he forced himself to resume his professional persona.
"Well, Miss Hopps, I have two concerns," he informed her in a mockingly serious tone as he busied himself pretending to straighten the papers. "Although you listed a few of your qualifications and discussed others over the course of this interview, the background check that we've conducted—"
"Wow, that was a fast background check."
"Yes, it's one of our many specialties. Anyway, it revealed that you have many other skills and characteristics that you would bring to this position, all of which make it clear that you're vastly overqualified, which is my first concern."
Judy furrowed her brows in confusion, compelling Nick to elaborate.
"For example," he said, lightly gesturing at her, "in addition to what you've already said, you're relentlessly optimistic and cheerful, very intelligent, wickedly funny, highly determined, extremely hard-working, astoundingly courageous, incredibly kind and compassionate toward others, and mind-numbingly beautiful." He let himself pause for just a moment to admire the gorgeous blush lighting up her baffled face. "Through the contributions that you've already made to Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated—you even pulled it out of the proverbial gutter, if you remember—I assure you that the company has grown and improved drastically in every way possible, and it will definitely never be the same. The fact is, you could probably get this position with any company you want, and they would likely be able to provide much better for you. They might certainly be more deserving of you.
"This brings me to my other concern, Miss Hopps," Nick plowed on when it looked like she might try to interrupt, his voice lowering as he let his hustler mask slip far enough for her to perceive his vulnerability and sincerity toward her. "That is, Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated may not be able to offer you the compensation that you deserve. We may always be a little short on money, and although the company is in pretty good shape now, it still needs a lot of improvement." He took a moment to think of all his flaws, grimaced, and reiterated, "A lot of improvement. So can you accept the fact that your overqualifications would mean that the compensation you would receive here would always be far below what you're actually worth? That is, you won't…" Briefly taking a breath, Nick forced out the rest of the question. "You won't quit?"
With a small shake of her head and a fond smirk, Judy replied, "First of all, I don't think of myself as overqualified. I feel that Nick and I complement each other perfectly. Furthermore, I was under the impression that I would be compensated with love, commitment, cuddles, kisses, plenty of quality time, and…"
She hesitated. Nick raised his eyebrows and tried to fight an amused grin from breaking across his muzzle as he caught the deep blush in the tips of her ears.
"Naked sleepovers," she finally blurted.
Unable to stay in character anymore, Nick burst out laughing for what felt like several minutes. Wiping a tear from his eye, he watched her pull her ears over her face as she slouched in her chair, snickering at herself. "Really, Carrots?" he chuckled gleefully. "You can't say—"
"Shush!" Judy exclaimed around her own giggles, grabbing a pen from the mug and throwing it at his face, which only reignited his mirth. "The point is!" she yelled, cutting across his laughter and urging him to get it under control. She waited until he had quieted before continuing. "The point, Mr. Wilde, is that I'm fully aware of what compensation to expect, and it's all that I could want and more. All I want is Nick." She sighed and then sent him an affectionate smile. "All I need is Nick."
At this point, Nick could only sit back in his chair and stare at her, arms firmly folded to discourage himself from reaching over to yank her into his lap. He was barely breathing, fully aware that his face wasn't hiding even a teaspoon of the intense love he felt toward her right then.
Judy held his gaze effortlessly and guilelessly, her expression communicating the same feelings. She let several seconds glide past before waggling her eyebrows expectantly at him, as though reminding him that it was his turn to speak.
Before the silence could stretch too much longer, Nick slapped his paws together and rubbed them against each other vigorously. "Well, I think that's all I needed to know." Then he stood and offered his paw, which Judy shook amiably. "Thanks again for coming in, Miss Hopps. I'll continue reviewing your application and consider whether you're the best fit for the position. It may take about two to four weeks before you'll receive word of my decision."
"I eagerly await your response," Judy said—such mundane words spoken with a somehow sultry tone. "Thank you for the opportunity."
With that, she let go of his paw and sauntered out of his apartment, her pencil skirt doing every possible justice to her hips. Nick didn't tear his eyes from her until she threw a wink over her shoulder and closed the door behind her.
Then he whipped out his cell phone and got to work.
One week later…
"Speaking of needing to get back to work—" Judy laughed as she hopped down from Clawhauser's desk, where he had been enthusiastically showing off the newest Gazelle app that he had downloaded. Fists resting on her cocked hips, Judy glanced around. "Did you see where my partner went?"
"Oh, did he leave?" Clawhauser asked in a nonchalant tone. Judy didn't miss the way he kept his gaze trained determinedly on his phone instead of looking at her.
"You did see where he went, didn't you," she stated matter-of-factly.
With all the speed of his lithe ancestors, Clawhauser grabbed a doughnut from the half-eaten box beside him and stuffed it into his mouth. "Thorry, Hoppth, muh mouf ith fo."
Judy glared thoughtfully at him for a moment before slowly surveying the lobby. "He's up to something. What is it this time?"
Her ears perked when Clawhauser grabbed the flashing communicator. The unmistakably deep voice of Bogo was speaking on the other end, but Judy couldn't pick up what he was saying. However, the cheetah's delight was plain to see in the way that his grin pushed his cheeks up to his sparkling eyes.
"Okay, Chief!" he practically squealed after hastily chewing and swallowing his doughtnut. Then he switched on the intercom, and his next words reverberated throughout the precinct. "Attention, officers! Please head to the bullpen for a brief conference! I repeat, please head to the bullpen for a brief conference!"
"A conference?" Judy repeated, glancing at the late afternoon sky outside. "For what?"
When Clawhauser's only response was to excitedly smoosh his cheeks toward the ceiling with his paws, Judy simply furrowed her brows at him and fell in with the crowd of officers gathering in a stream across the lobby. After a moment, she glanced back and was a bit startled to find him staring at her with wide, ecstatic eyes.
She tilted her head curiously at this, but without having any idea why he was acting so strange, she simply shrugged and turned toward the bullpen, biting her lip in concern when she still couldn't find Nick anywhere.
Hopefully, he wouldn't miss anything.
"Okay, are we missing anything?" Nick asked Bogo as he straightened his tie, squinting at his reflection the office window. The fading sunlight offered just enough visibility for him to make sure that his blues were impeccable.
"I have nothing to miss, Wilde," Bogo answered without looking up from the report he was perusing through the glasses perched on his snout. "All I plan on doing is watching."
Nodding, Nick slipped his paw into his pocket for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time, he felt the box there. "Right."
He leaned backward to glance through the window in the door between the office and the bullpen. His heartbeat quickened when he saw Judy nervously look around at the other officers as she settled onto the seat that she usually shared with him. No doubt she was worrying where he'd gone.
She'd soon find out.
The thought was enough to freeze Nick's lungs and constrict his throat. He was doing it. He was really doing it. Was everything going to be okay? How could he know for sure?
Immediately, his paw went behind him to brush the rolled-up stapled papers in his back pocket. He smiled as warmth once again flooded his body.
He only had to be patient a little longer.
But he did hate being patient.
With a long, self-assuring sigh, he said, "Well, I guess it's showtime."
Grunting, Bogo rose from his chair and slid his glasses into his shirt pocket. "I'll get you started, then," he sighed, casting Nick a reassuring smile that was as fleeting as it was tiny.
Nick watched as the buffalo trudged in his usual heavy way into the bullpen and called for quiet, a command that was immediately obeyed as the door shut behind him. The sound was muffled, but Nick could hear him clearly enough as he peeked furtively from behind the frame.
"I know you're all wondering about the purpose of this meeting," the chief said, gripping the podium as he let his hard gaze fall onto every individual officer. "I've received word that one of our officers is due for a special promotion. It comes with great rewards." He paused as his brow twitched, and he grumbled sarcastically, "Although it's certainly a very demanding position in this particular case."
That brought a grin to Nick's muzzle, and he heard a few of the officers chuckle. He chanced another peek into the window and felt his chest tighten upon seeing Judy's confused expression. Poor bunny.
"It's not my place to announce this promotion," Bogo continued. "Especially since it wasn't actually my idea." More chuckles. "Truthfully, the promotion is Mr. Wilde's to give, so without further ado—"
Nick again looked into the bullpen to find Bogo holding up a hoof toward him in an unmoving gesture meant to beckon him inside. Making sure his trademark smirk was locked firmly in place, Nick opened the door, stepped into the frame, and examined the room. He allowed himself only a quick exchange of glances between Judy and himself; he didn't trust himself to keep it together if he had to look at her stiff ears and wide eyes any longer than a second.
Bogo moved to find a seat while Nick took over the podium and cleared his throat.
"As you all know, there's been an open position at Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated, for many years," he began, raising his voice with an air of confidence and authority. In the corner of his eye, he saw Judy's ear twitch and her mouth tumble open as her paws flew to cover it up, but he still avoided meeting her gaze. Instead, he released a dramatic sigh and shook his head. "There have been so many applicants, but the time has finally come to choose who will fill it. I hate to leave so many mammals disappointed, but I couldn't put off this decision forever." He grabbed the edges of the podium and leaned forward. "However, before I announce the lucky new employee, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who applied." He grinned slyly around the room. "You know who you are."
"You're missing out, Wilde," Delgato piped up, batting his eyes flirtatiously as he stuck out his lower lip.
The other officers laughed—even Bogo huffed amusedly—and Nick allowed himself a chuckle. Then he straightened and finally locked eyes with his bunny.
"Judith Laverne Hopps, will you come up here, please?" he said gently.
She obliged, and Nick could tell that her face was burning under her fur, but she was also sporting a grin that stretched from ear to ear. As she took her place next to him, she glanced away shyly for a moment before looking up at him, her smile warming as her shoulders straightened with pride and confidence.
Nick just admired her for a moment before speaking. "You, Judy, have won the prestigious Nick Wilde's Mammal of the Year award for two years in a row. Our statisticians project that you will continue winning that award every year for the rest of your life. You've done more for Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated than anyone else in all thirty-three years of its existence. Without you, the company may very well fall apart entirely, or it would at least suffer beyond any chance of a total recovery. Frankly, you are indispensable to its success."
Judy's eyes glistened as her mouth opened, but Nick stopped her by cupping his paw on her cheek.
"Like Bogo said, you've applied for a very demanding position," he said. "It won't be easy, but I'll do everything I can to make it worth whatever sacrifices you have to make. Judy…" He turned from the podium to face her fully, taking her paws in his own. "I love you."
A tear escaped Judy's eye. "I love you, too, Nick," she whispered, her voice catching just a little.
Nick smiled tenderly at her, relishing the feelings of love that engulfed him as he stared into the violet eyes that had dominated his mind ever since they'd met. Then he inhaled deeply, reached into his pocket, and slowly lowered himself to one knee.
"Judy, I'd like to hire you for the position of wife at Nick Wilde Hustling, Incorporated," he proclaimed as he opened the box to show her the ring inside, a gold band with a garnet stone surrounded by tiny diamonds. "Will you accept?"
Her answer was a squeal of delight as she launched herself at him and buried her face in the crook of his neck as the room erupted into applause and cheers.
With one arm, Nick held Judy close while the other kept the ring box upright. He laughed heartily, elated that she would be so powerfully happy over the idea of marrying him, of all mammals. It was impossible for him to care that his co-workers could probably see the genuine smile that he had always kept concealed from everyone except her. There was nothing worth hiding today, not with Judy in his arms and the dreams of a new stage of his life coming true.
After about a minute of just reveling in the feeling of her body snuggled against his and the incredible knowledge that she had agreed to this—even encouraged it—he let Judy pull back from their embrace. She eyed the ring delightedly and reached for it.
Deciding to tease her for just a moment longer, Nick moved the box slightly out of her reach. "Oh, are—are you just trying to steal the ring? Is that what this is?"
He laughed again when she snatched the box from him, slid the ring onto the middle finger of her left paw, and directed a mischievous smile toward him.
"So how soon can I start, Mr. Wilde?" she asked.
"How soon can you fill out all the hiring paperwork?" Nick replied with equal cheekiness.
Her smile remained, but she combined it with a coquettish expression. "Shouldn't take too long. After all, our names are the only necessary details."
Shaking his head with a chuckle, Nick leaned forward to press his lips against hers. She returned the kiss enthusiastically, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck while he enveloped her waist in his arms, and the exuberant din surrounding them suddenly increased several notches in volume.
As soon as they broke apart, their fellow officers began rushing forward to congratulate them, boast of how they "knew it all along," ask if they already had a date or a venue in mind, or offer unsolicited marital advice.
It was several minutes before Bogo was able to shoo them out so that they could get back to work. However, he allowed Nick and Judy to stay in the conference room, still locked in their embrace with their foreheads resting against each other. He gruffly ordered them to leave and go home in a few minutes, but they barely acknowledged him. In a rare show of leniency, he let them ignore him.
Once all had fallen silent, Judy giggled and drew back so that Nick could see her raise an accusatory eyebrow at him. "You lied to me, by the way. You said it would take two to four weeks!"
"I said it may take two to four weeks," Nick corrected her. At her flabbergasted expression, he smirked slyly. "It's called a hustle, sweetheart."
Judy sighed contentedly, brushing the fur of his cheek with one paw. "Of course it is." As she drew her muzzle nearer to his, she whispered, "I can't wait for a lifetime of it."
"Neither can I," Nick agreed huskily, cupping her face in his paws just before their lips met.
Without an audience to watch them this time, their kiss quickly deepened. In the back of his mind, Nick knew that they should dial down the passion a bit, but he really did hate being patient, especially when it came to Judy.
As he whirled around to press her gently against a wall and kiss her harder, her application fell out of his back pocket and fluttered to the floor.
A/N: Back when my husband and I were pseudo-dating, I made it my daily goal to make him smile, too. There was one particular smile I always tried to get, and it looks just like the one Nick gives to Judy at the police academy graduation.
It's still a daily goal.