Even above the roar of the stunned – outraged – confused – angry crowd, Judy could hear Nick's heart pounding like a trip hammer. The explosion of flashbulbs was blinding but she could hear his breathing in spite of it. It was coming in jerky little puffs, and beneath her paws resting on his arms, she could feel his muscles twitching with a fight or flight reaction waiting to see what would happen. She wondered disjointedly what he could smell about her.
But his heart and breathing weren't the only ones she could hear. Their friends were crowded close to them at the podium and their hearts were equally clear to her. It was like hearing a continuous roll of kettle drums; all of them were poised on a knife's edge of tension.
The fear was huge inside her heart, trampling back and forth like a giant in her chest, threatening to cut off her own breathing. She knew she was trembling and clutched him even tighter to stay on her feet.
From the corner of her eye, she saw her parents openly crying. Her heart seized inside her. They'd agreed to her marriage to Nick, but if she couldn't even win them over, what chance did they have with the rest of the whole wide world? In her snow-white wedding dress, she felt like a sitting duck with a big target painted on her chest. Would the crowd storm the platform and try to physically separate her and Nick? Panic at the idea hit her like a runaway freight train. No! I can't lose him, she screamed in her head, feeling tears starting down her cheeks. She could feel her own heart pounding wildly out of control.
Nick glanced sideways at her. “Calm down, Fluff,” he whispered, knowing she could hear him through the tumult. He wiggled his fingers. “You're cutting off the circulation.”
She blushed faintly and eased her death grip on his arm. “Sorry. I didn't realize I was doing it,” she apologized, giving him a brief glance. Movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned to see Bogo marching toward the podium with some papers. What was he doing?
He laid them down on the podium then nodded at Gazelle. She turned and gestured to her band. The leader waved for the others to ready their instruments and a moment later the first strains of Here Comes the Bride wafted over the loudspeakers.
Judy started with surprise. Quick tears came to her eyes as she remembered asking Gazelle to play that for her. She bit her lip and turned to Nick. He met her gaze. “It's time, Fluff. I don't care what they say,” he waved at the crowd, still surging back and forth in the stands trying to make up their minds about the sudden turn of events. “I love you, you're mine, and that's all that matters.”
She heard unaccustomed steel in his voice and it steadied her nerves. She wiped away her tears and straightened her back defiantly. “You're right,” she answered, fighting to keep her voice steady.
Bogo nodded down at them both. “In for a penny, in for a pound, Hopps,” he said quietly, holding a paw over the microphone. “I told you from the beginning the safest way forward was for you two to get married. Now that everyone knows,” he tilted his head at the stands, “forward is the only direction you have left.”
Judy tossed her head, forcing her ears to stand up straight. “Then let's go there.”
Bobo nodded and turned back to the crowd. “SHUT IT!” he roared into the microphone. The crowd reared back from the volume of his voice, surprised into momentary silence. Feedback squealed.
Satisfied he had their attention, Bogo proceeded. “When I was first elected to Chief of Police I performed the marriage for Gazelle and my old partner, Tyrone Stripeson. Today I've been asked to do the same thing for these other three couples . . .” he paused dramatically, “. . . and I'm going to.” He waved for them to stand before him as the music reached its crescendo.
His words created a new wave of talking and gesturing among the crowd.
As the three couples moved to stand in front of him, Judy saw Lionheart staring at Bogo's back with a speculative look. Caught up in the emotion of the moment, she couldn't say if it was good or bad. Before she could give it any more thought, a commotion in the VIP section drew her attention.
Her father was struggling forward against Bonnie's panicked grip on his arm. Other mammals were moving forward to hold him back. Judy's heart sank. Was he trying to stop them? How much more of this could she take? Then her ears heard what he was saying.
“Let me go! My daughter is getting married and it's my job to give her away.”
Her heart leaped for joy! He wanted to be part of the ceremony? “Let him come up!” she cried excitedly, her eyes alive with sudden hope. “Let him up!” The assembled dignitaries paused uncertainly at her words, as stunned by the sudden turn of events as anyone. Stu took advantage of their distraction to squirm out of their grasp and bound up to the stage.
“Daddy! Are you sure?” she gasped.
He grabbed her in a huge hug. “No, but you are, Jude, and that's enough for me.” He linked arms with her and faced Bogo.
The audience was still alive with discussion, arguments, and even a few minor fights here and there in the stands. Cops quickly swarmed the combatants before their fisticuffs could develop into a general melee. Only about half of the mammals in the crowd were even paying attention to Bogo and the couples before him.
He nodded at Stuart and began. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today . . .
Judy never did remember what Bogo said or how he handled marrying three different couples all at the same time. His voice was little more than a meaningless drone in the background. Their friend's voices were even further distant. But she remembered Nick saying, “I do,” the tidal wave of emotion behind it searing it into her memory forever. When it was her turn to say, “I do,” she knew she'd never be able to forget that moment either.
They exchanged the rings when he told them to, fumbling through a haze of tears to get it on Nick's finger. Nick seemed to be all thumbs too, getting the ring on her finger but she didn't want to embarrass him by checking to see if he had tears in his eyes.
A long time later, that couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but seemed like an eternity, she heard the words she'd been longing for ever since Nick proposed to her at the Crab Shanty. “By the power vested in me by the city of Zootopia, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Bogo grinned down at them, one of the few times she could ever remember him smiling. “You may kiss the bride,” he chuckled. Judy gasped and flew into Nick's arms, plastering a passionate kiss on him, unmindful of the packed grandstands in the unadulterated joy of the moment.
A long moment later a thunderous roar from the audience shook her back to reality. She looked around the grandstands with something akin to shock. The majority of the crowd was staring, uncertain of what to do, but nearly half of them were applauding!
The four couples stared in surprise. Of all the reactions they'd anticipated, this had been the last thing they'd imagined would happen. Nick's jaw dropped. “Uh . . .”
Judy heard the change in Tyrone's heartbeat even before he moved. He gently elbowed Bogo aside from the microphone. “I was just an ordinary patrol officer hanging out with this sour puss,” he inclined his head at Bogo, “when I met Gazelle. She was a part-time waitress and lounge singer back then when we met and fell in love. We've had to hide what we were all these years but one thing has never changed – my wife is the best singer in the world!”
The audience laughed and applauded, this time louder and more enthusiastically than the moment before.
“Would you like to hear her now?” Tyrone asked dramatically, pumping his fist in the air.
This time the audience responded with a full-throated roar that shook the ground. Whatever they might think about predator-prey couples and marriage and all the rest of it, Gazelle was still the singer of the age and they wanted to hear her belt it out. The crowd was on its feet. “Ga-zell! Ga-zell! Ga-zell!” they chanted in unison, clapping and stomping their feet.
Gazelle was riding the same emotional roller coaster as the rest of them but she was a professional to the bone. She recognized a cue when she heard it and swung into action. She snapped her hooves at her stage crew. They dashed forward to remove the podium and give her a portable microphone.
Nick and Judy blinked, then grabbed their friends and pulled them out of the way back to their seats as Gazelle took over.