Their train from the city took even longer than Judy had anticipated, and they hadn't pulled into the station until just after three o'clock in the morning.
As soon as they entered the range of Bunnyburrow's limited cell reception, Judy received a text from whichever sibling had been sent to pick them up; they'd given up around two am and gone home. By the time the pair made the long walk to the Hopps Farm from the train station, it was all they could do to find the nearest spare bedroom and collapse in an exhausted heap.
It was nearly eleven by the time Nick sleepily followed Judy into the kitchen, his half-asleep brain only just grasping the fact that they weren't alone. Truth be told, it was only the burrow's cool draft that ensured he hadn't walked to the kitchen naked.
"Oh! Good morning, sweetheart." Bonnie smiled a little awkwardly as the pair took a seat at the kitchen table. "I hope you two slept well."
"Good morning, Mom."
"You two certainly got in late."
Judy let out an impolite snort. "Only because Owen abandoned us."
"Train got in at three." Nick yawned loudly. "He decided to go home at two."
"Why that little...! Owen Nathaniel Zachary Hopps, you get out here right this instant!"
As Bonnie stormed out of the kitchen, eyes ablaze and wooden spoon in hand, Nick pulled a mug from the shelf and glanced around. "Hey Carrots, where's the coffee maker around here?"
"Don't have one." Judy commented, idly flipping through that day's Bunnyburrow Bugle.
"What? Why not?!"
"Can you imagine three hundred bunnies on a caffeine rush?"
"Yikes." The fox winced, picturing the inevitable chaos. "Good point."
"I think there's some tea in that cupboard there. It's all herbal, though."
"It'll have to do." He started rooting through the cupboards. "We're supposed to meet the Mayor and the retiring Sheriff at noon, but we can head into town earlier if you like. Maybe you could show me the sights?"
"Actually..." An unexpected, deeper voice answered. "I believe you and I need to have a word."
Cautiously peering over the cupboard door, the suddenly anxious fox discovered his future father-in-law clapping the dust from his paws. "Whenever you're ready, Nicholas."
"R-right, of course." Nick mumbled, rising to his feet and moving to join Stu at the kitchen table.
"No." Stu's sharp exclamation brought him up short. "Come with me."
Nervously following the older rabbit out of the house, Nick felt his stomach do a little flip when he realized that he was being led to the massive red barn that dominated the horizon. He took a quick glance over his shoulder and saw Judy giving him an encouraging thumbs-up from the porch. Even so, a part of him still felt as though he was being marched to his own execution.
The air inside the barn was hot and dusty; the smell of old straw made his nose itch. Although the interior was dimly lit, his eyes were more than sharp enough to make out the terrifying array of razor sharp tools that hung along the wall. Their path took them the length of the building and up two separate ladders, finally ending in an isolated corner of the hay loft; the only available light came from a single dusty window.
"Have a seat, Nicholas." Stu told him. Nick did as he was told, settling himself on a bale of hay.
The bunny pushed aside a rusty wheelbarrow to reveal a small refrigerator. As he rummaged about inside, Stu gestured toward some old shelves. "Could you fire up that tape player there? The one on the shelf."
Nick did so, and across the barn a hidden speaker began blaring. "-ell you another thing! No daughter of mine is going to be involved in these kinds of shenanigans! She may be all grown up, but she's still my little kitten! If you think you can..."
"What the...?" Nick's bewilderment at the ongoing recording was compounded when Stu took a seat across from the fox and handed him a cold bottle of beer. "Uh...thanks?"
"With a family as large as mine, a buck needs a little alone time every now and again." Stu explained cryptically, reaching out to tap his bottle against the fox's.
"That makes sense." Nick responded neutrally. He took a sip of his beer and let out a faint sound of amusement. "It's...uh...hoppy."
"Home brewed. A lot of trial and error went into it, but I'd say the final result was worthwhile."
The fox nodded, awkwardly tapping a claw against the glass bottle. "So..."
"So." Judy's father repeated. "I'm not an angry bunny, Nick. Even if I were, I've raised more than enough daughters to know that the 'overprotective father' bit doesn't work worth a gosh-darn. And Judy especially will go her own way with or without my approval, just like she always has."
"Sounds about right." Nick muttered. "She doesn't listen to a damn thing I say, either."
"You'll get used to it." Stu chuckled. "In any case, she's a grown doe. I don't have the right to dictate how she lives her life or who she chooses to spend it with. I'd be a damn fool not to see how much the two of you love each other, and if you make her happy then who am I to stand in the way?" He leaned forward, placing his beer atop an overturned bucket and giving the fox a stern look. "But just so we're clear, while I may not be as young as I used to be, if you hurt my little kitten I'll still do my level best to give you the whooping you deserve."
"I thought you weren't an angry bunny." Nick risked a smile.
"There's a first time for everything, buster."
"To be honest Stu, I think that if I hurt Judy you'd have to get in line."
"You're probably right." The rabbit nodded. "However, there is one thing you and I need to discuss. Regardless of the circumstances or how long you two have been together, I wasn't particularly impressed that you didn't reach out to Bonnie and I before proposing to our daughter – even if only as a courtesy."
"I didn't think..."
"No. You didn't." Stu interrupted. "Those kinds of traditions might not mean much to your generation, but they're not dead yet. You need to understand that marrying my daughter means becoming part of this family, and in the Hopps family we show each other respect."
The fox looked away uncomfortably. "I'm...very sorry, Mr. Hopps."
Stu paused, letting the words sink in. "I know you didn't mean any disrespect, Nick, and I'm certainly not going to hold this one against you. But try to show a little more consideration in the future?"
"Glad to hear it. And for goodness sake call me Stu." The rabbit rose from his seat, groaning as he stretched. "Anyway, I think that's about long enough. Shall we head on back inside?"
"That's it." Stu confirmed, turning off the tape player.
"That wasn't so bad."
"What did you expect? Forty lashes?"
"I guess not, but..." Nick shrugged. "Judy did have a few stories."
"I'm sure she did. I'm told I have quite the fearsome reputation." Stu chuckled, gesturing to the tape player. "Don't worry, though. I'm fairly harmless. All just smoke and mirrors."
"So why the big production?"
"I love my family, Nick. But just because I'm a pushover doesn't mean they need to know I'm a pushover." Stu chuckled, leading Nick back to the barn door. He paused just before they could step out into the sunshine. "Oh, one last thing. If you could act like you just took a good verbal thrashing, I'd really appreciate it."
"I think I can manage that." Nick took a deep breath, pinning his ears back and wrapping his tail protectively around his legs. Looking like the very picture of a thoroughly chastised fox, he glumly followed Stu out of the barn.
"Your dad is mean." Nick grumbled, barely audible over the rumble of the borrowed farm truck.
"Oh, my poor fox." Judy cooed. "Did the big, bad bunny scare you?"
He took his eyes off the road just long enough to scowl at her. "Your sympathy is overwhelming."
"Oh hush. He's just a bit...overprotective...sometimes." She began to stroke his tail comfortingly. "It's all talk, I promise."
"No, he's the devil in a trucker's hat." Nick whined melodramatically. "How could you subject me to that? I could've died! Do you even love me at all?"
"You know I do, you big baby." She laughed, gesturing to the turnoff that would take them into town. "Just as much as you love me."
"With all my heart and soul, Carrots." He peered at her over the rim of his mirrored aviators. "But don't think that this won't come up for your annual performance evaluation. I write that, you know."
"Oh?" She lowered her own sunglasses and matched his playfully stern glare. "And to whom do you submit this evaluation?"
"Oh, it goes right on the Sheriff's desk." The fox nodded gravely. "And I imagine he won't take kindly to that kind of nonsense."
"Aw, I bet he's a big softie."
"Uh-uh. See, that's the kind of attitude that can get a bunny busted back down to Special Commander-In-Chief Deputy."
"I'd like to see you tr...wait! There it is!" Judy practically exploded from her seat, grinning as she gestured excitedly at a single-story brick building. "That's it right there!"
"Okay, okay. I see it." Despite himself, Nick couldn't help but smile at her enthusiasm. As they pulled up, two older mammals came out to meet them; a badger and a rabbit. Each had his fair share of white fur peppering their otherwise dark coats, but both smiled welcomingly as Nick and Judy climbed out of the truck.
"Mr. Wilde." The rabbit greeted them enthusiastically, bounding forward to vigorously shake the fox's paw. "I'm so pleased to meet you in person! I can't tell you how glad I am you accepted our offer."
"It's a pleasure to be here." The fox replied smoothly, hiding his surprise at the Mayor's strong grip. "Mayor Thumper, I presume?"
"That's me. And this is..."
"Sheriff Tobin!" Judy yelled, cutting off the Mayor's introduction as she wrapped the amused badger in a hug. "It's so good to see you!"
"It's good to see you too, Judy." The badger laughed. "We've sure missed having you around."
"You'll have a heck of an act to follow, Mr. Wilde." Thumper commented. "Myles Tobin has been our Sheriff for...gosh, must be almost twenty years now."
"Oh please, I wasn't some superhero." The old badger scoffed. "I've no doubt that Mr. Wilde..."
"Nick, please." The fox interjected.
"That Nick is going to do just fine." He turned to scrutinize the fox. "Tell me, Nick; what do you think the secret is to law enforcement in the Tri-Burrows?"
"Be firm, be fair, and don't be a jerk. Figure out the rest as I go along."
"That's a damn fine answer, son. Like I said, you'll do just fine." Tobin laughed, clapping Nick firmly on the shoulder. "C'mon in, take a look around. Your uniforms just got delivered, so feel free to grab a cup of coffee while I go find them."
"Now you're speaking my language." Nick grinned, following the Sheriff inside. "I take it that Carrots spent a lot of time here?"
"Yup. Judy was a regular fixture in this office. Why, she spent so much time here growing up, she was practically part of the staff."
"Why am I not surprised?" Nick laughed. "I can just see her strutting around with that little police hat on!"
"I only wore the hat once!" Judy insisted, not noticing Sheriff Tobin mouth the words every single time. "I was just enthusiastic."
"Here you go. Too late to back out now." Tobin handed each of them a brown-paper parcel. "I imagine you know most of the ins and outs of the job, but my official retirement date isn't until Friday so I'll be around a few more days to show you the ropes."
"I appreciate that. And I'm sure Judy can cover anything you might miss."
"I wasn't here that often!"
"Oh, don't be shy now." The Sheriff chuckled, turning back to Nick. "Judy had quite the law enforcement career here in Bunnyburrow. When she was still a kitten, we had to give her little jobs around the office just to keep her from trying to go out on patrol by herself."
"I don't think we need to..." Judy began, only to be interrupted by a cackling fox.
"She did that?!"
"Just the one time, but it served us right for not watching her. We didn't even know she was gone until-"
"Really, we've got a lot to do today. We should go." Judy tried again.
"-we look up, and there's Ivor Kowalzyki holding up a squirming little bunny and doing his very best not to break down laughing."
"Nick, we really need to get going!" Judy insisted. "You two can talk about this later...or possibly never."
"Oh shush, Judy." Sheriff Tobin laughed, waving his paw at the blushing bunny. "Everyone loves this story."
"Yeah, Carrots." Nick agreed. "Everyone loves it. What happened next?"
"It seems the old steer had gone into the co-op and left that rusty old farm truck of his parked in a disabled mammal space. Well, you'd better believe that when he came back out, there was Judy standing next to it looking all kinds of annoyed. He didn't even get the chance to say hello before she whipped out that little pink notebook of hers and wrote him a ticket!"
"No!" Nick gasped in disbelief.
"No!" Judy cried in despair.
"Yes!" Tobin laughed. "So - still holding up this furious little bunny - he says to me 'Careful Sheriff, I think young Miss Hopps is planning to take the law into her own paws.' And do you know what Judy did then?"
"Please tell me what she did then!" Nick asked, grinning at his mortified fiancée.
"She starts thrashing something fierce and yells 'That's Junior Assistant Deputy Hopps to you, buster!'"
"I'll be outside!" Judy yelled over the sound of Nick's laughter, stomping out of the office.
"I think I might've gotten you in some trouble there." Tobin commented.
"Totally worth it." Nick wiped the tears from his eyes. "I should probably head out, though."
"Alright then. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning. And before I forget..." He handed Nick a polished gold star with SHERIFF inscribed on it. "You'll probably be needing that."
The fox grinned, holding the badge up to the light. "Thanks, Sheriff Tobin."
"No problem. Now get going before I give your future missus any more reason to tan my hide."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll find a way to make it up to her..."
"Do I look okay?"
"Mmm..." Judy purred, leering shamelessly at her fox in his new tan-colored uniform, her eyes naturally drawn to the shining star pinned to his chest. "You look more than okay, Sheriff..."
"Yeah?" Nick hooked a thumb in his belt. "Howdy, Miss Hopps. How're you this fine day?"
"Oh, much better," She answered playfully. "...now that you're here, Sheriff."
She slowly stepped backward as he sauntered toward her, one pace at a time. "You been staying out of trouble?"
She bit her lip coyly, shaking her head. "Oh no...I've been a very bad bunny."
"Well then," He closed the distance between them as Judy suddenly felt her back pressed firmly to the wall. "I think I'll have to take you in for questioning."
"What if I'm concealing something dangerous." She warned him, running her paw over his chest.
"Oh, don't you fret. I plan on searching you carefully."
Rising up on her toes, she pressed her nose into the fur of his neck. Nuzzling up to his ear, she whispered softly. "Make sure you're very thorough..."
"OH SWEET CHEESE AND CRACKERS!" The unexpected shout through the door shocked them from their fantasy. "YOU KNOW WE CAN ALL HEAR YOU, RIGHT?!"
Judy threw her paws over her mouth as her ears broke out in a glowing blush. Grinning at his fiancée, Nick turned toward the disembodied voice. "Oh really?! We didn't realize you were all listening so closely!"
"WE WEREN'T...I MEAN...SHUT UP!"
Trying not to laugh, he continued. "We can crack the door if you're that curious!"
"Nick!" Judy cried indignantly. He turned back to see the beautiful gray rabbit wink at him. "There's no need for that! We'll be loud enough that they won't need the door open."
A collective gasp emanated from the hallway. "NO! WE WERE JUST...UM...GOOD NIGHT!"
The thundering sound of several dozen fleeing rabbits filled their ears, slowly petering off into silence.
"Oh, to have seen the looks on their faces!" Nick cackled. "Clearly you have some experience at messing with your siblings."
"Who says I was messing with them?" She fired back, grabbing Nick's tie and pulling him into a searing kiss. Tugging the happily dazed fox across the room, she gently shoved him onto the bed with a coquettish smile. "If I recall, Sheriff, you have a very naughty bunny to frisk..."
Several months later...
When Nick first arrived in town, most bunnies wouldn't venture within fifteen feet of him. Some had gone so far as to scurry across the street when he came around the corner.
"Good morning, Sheriff!"
It felt like he overheard more speciest remarks in the first two weeks than in an entire year back in the city.
"Lovely day, ain't it Sheriff?"
Six months later, it was as if the mammals of Bunnyburrow had known Nick for their whole lives.
"Well boy howdy, Sheriff! How are ya this mornin'?"
He smiled at the boisterous greeting that, from any other mammal, might've seemed hokey...even disrespectful. But Nick knew that coming from the only other fox in the area, it was the very definition of genuine. "Can't complain, Gideon. How about yourself?"
"Oh, I've been busier than a one-armed juggler!" The local baker laughed. "Those fancy Zootopia restaurants have been placin' orders like crazy. Would you believe that mammals in the city are willin' to pay more money for smaller portions?"
"I can only imagine." Nick replied offhandedly as the eleven-fifteen train from Zootopia pulled into the Bunnyburrow station.
"Well, I tell ya it's been a real blessin'." Gideon rocked back on his heels. "I've had to hire three more assistants, and I may even be openin' another bakery in the city."
"No kidding? That's great to hear."
"Mm-hm. Which reminds me..." The other fox leaned in, whispering. "I appreciate you turnin' a blind eye to my little side operation. I've left the payment in the usual place."
"Gid, your side operation is selling gourmet fruit preserves to organic grocery stores." Nick laughed. "And I turn a blind eye because you registered to expand your business with the Tri-Burrows Chamber of Commerce."
"Aw, Sheriff. Can't you just let me have my fun?"
"Okay, okay." Nick shot an exaggerated glance over his shoulder, then leaned in to whisper back. "Not a problem, Mr. Gray. I don't believe my Deputies will have any reason to bother you this month."
"Except if they're coming to the fair next weekend." Gideon clarified. "I'll have my usual booth set up."
"Except for then." Nick agreed. "Seriously, though...the blueberry muffins?"
"On your desk."
"I knew I could count on...you..." Nick trailed off as he spotted a familiar mammal stepping off the train. "Excuse me, Gid. Something's just come up."
Before Gideon could respond, the smaller fox had already sprinted away.
Judy was flipping through the overnight log book – trying very hard not to get distracted by the new gold ring on her left paw - when her husband came tearing into the station like his tail was on fire. She didn't even have a chance to ask what was going on before he grabbed her around the waist and lifted her to eye level. "What the...? You put me down right now!"
"No time!" He barked. "This is important and we don't have a moment to waste."
Puzzled, the bunny stopped squirming. "Nick, what's going on?"
"Carrots, do I look like the Sheriff?!"
"You are the Sheriff." She responded slowly.
He gave her an exasperated look. "Yes, but do I look like the Sheriff?"
"Nick, what are you...?"
"Nevermind." He spun around and pointed her at the nearby window. "Look."
"Wait, is that...?" Judy blinked. "Is that Councilor Morrigan?"
"It is indeed! He just got off the eleven-fifteen train."
"Why is he...?"
He placed her back on the ground and smoothed her ruffled uniform. "I don't know and I definitely don't care, but this is too good of an opportunity to pass up."
"Be cool, Carrots." Nick took a deep breath. "We're just gonna screw with him a bit. It'll be just like I practiced."
His partner cocked an eyebrow at him. "Wait, you practiced for this?"
He nodded, "In the shower."
"You practiced for this in the shower?"
"What?" He responded, a little defensively. "I get bored when you're not in there."
"Come on!" He grabbed her paw, dragging her out of the station. "Straight face, sunglasses on. This is gonna be hilarious."
He'd expected Morrigan to look surprised when he saw them - maybe even a little smug. What he didn't expect was for the hyena to freeze in mid-step as soon as spotted them approaching, his eyes darting around apprehensively.
"Oh! Erm...good morning, offic..." He began.
"License and registration, please." Nick interrupted.
Morrigan seemed unsure how to respond. "I...uh...took the train."
"License and registration." The fox repeated, a little more sharply.
Bewildered, Morrigan fished his driver's license from his pocket.
Judy snatched it from his paw and scrutinized it carefully. "Do you know how fast you were going, sir?"
"Do I know how...what?"
"How fast you were going." She repeated.
"I was..." He glanced around uncertainly. "I was walking?
"Is that a question?"
"So, you do know how fast you were going."
"I-is there a speed limit for walking here?"
"No." Nick responded evenly. "Though apparently, you never bothered to check before visiting."
Morrigan began to fidget uncomfortably, glancing between the two officers. "Am I... have I done something wrong, officers?"
"Well, that's the question of the day. Have you done something?"
"Sheriff." Judy interrupted the stammering hyena. "Can I talk to you for a second?"
"Hold that thought, Morrigan." He took a few steps back, but didn't take his eyes off the larger predator. "What's up, Carrots?"
Judy leaned in, speaking softly. "Am I crazy, or does he seem a little twitchy to you?"
"I'm serious. You remember how confident he acted back in the city?"
"I think a better description would be arrogant motherfu-"
"My point is" She cut him off, "He hated us back in Zootopia. He came after us constantly. So why do we suddenly make him so nervous?"
"Hm...fair question." He passed her Morrigan's license. "Have Bessie run this through the system, see if anything comes up."
As the fox turned his attention back to the hyena, Judy stepped off to the side and began quietly relaying the pertinent details to their civilian dispatcher. She only had to wait a few moments before the young heifer responded with some particularly interesting information. With no small amount of personal satisfaction, she ambled over to share it with Nick. "Want to know what Bessie found, Sheriff Wilde?"
"What did Bessie find, Deputy Wilde?"
"It seems..." She drew the word out, smiling sweetly at the anxious hyena. "That former City Councilor Morrigan has an arrest warrant out in his name...for grand larceny."
"Oh really?" Nick grinned. "Looks like today isn't your lucky day, Morrigan. Turn around, drop to your knees and place your paws on the back of your head."
Now looking genuinely frightened, the hyena took a step back and glanced over his shoulder. Nick kept his eyes on the larger mammal; he didn't have to look back to know his wife was already primed for a chase.
"C'mon now, Morrigan. You've seen her in action." He edged forward, slowly pulling the paw-cuffs from his belt. "I mean, if you think you can outrun her, by all means give it a shot."
The hyena stood frozen for another breath, then his shoulders sagged as the weight of his situation seemed to crash down upon him. He did as he'd been instructed with a soft whimper, but remained silent as Judy read him his rights. He only flinched a little when the cuffs closed around his wrists.
"G'morning, Bogo." Nick drawled, putting his feet up on the desk. "And how are you today?"
"Wilde." Bogo answered shortly. "What do you want?"
"You really should make more time for pleasantries, but since you ask...hold on a second." He glanced outside to see a growing crowd of curious bunnies, many of them trying to get a peek at the individual slouched in their only holding cell. Considering it (like most of Bunnyburrow) had been designed with much smaller mammals in mind, the hyena wasn't finding it particularly comfortable. "Carrots, would you mind dealing with our guest's new fan club?"
The amused bunny headed outside as Nick turned his attention back to the phone. "Sorry about that. Where were we?"
The buffalo gave a nearly inaudible sigh. "You were about to explain why I'm talking to you, when I could be getting some real work done."
"Ah, yes." Nick leaned back in his seat, grinning. "It just so happens that we found someone you lost."
"Get on with it, Wilde. I've no patience for games."
Nick took a moment to pick at a bit of lint on his trousers, letting the buffalo stew in his own impatience for a moment. "I just thought you'd want to know that we've arrested a certain former city councilor you may know. Specifically, one who got caught skimming funds from several city works projects."
"Hold on. Are you telling me that you've got Carl Morrigan in custody?"
"The one and only."
"That's good news, Wilde." The Chief sounded vaguely impressed. "I'll send some officers out this afternoon so you can hand him over to ZPD cust..."
"Actually, that won't be happening." Nick interrupted. "Because unless I'm mistaken, the Councilor was arrested about 200 miles outside your jurisdiction. That makes it a federal case, so we'll be handing his mangy hindparts over to the ZBI."
The near-silence on the line was broken only by the unmistakable sound of Bogo's grinding teeth.
"That being said," Nick continued. "We'll be informing the ZBI that Morrigan was apprehended with the aid of the ZPD. After all, you did make sure Deputy Wilde and I were on the lookout for a possible fugitive. Thanks for the heads up, by the way."
"What are you..." The Chief paused. "Ah, yes. Think nothing of it, Wilde. Professional courtesy."
"Professional courtesy." Nick echoed, glancing at the small clock on his desk. "I'd best be going, though. Bunnies to wrangle and prisoner transfers to arrange. You understand."
"Of course. And..." The buffalo cleared his throat. "Congratulations to yourself and the Deputy."
"Thanks, I'll tell her you said so. Take care of yourself, Chief Bogo."
"You as well...Sheriff Wilde."
Inspired in part by a piece of artwork from lleu-momiji on deviantart.
Sheriff really took on a life of its own, but its length won't be typical for the rest of Forty Glimpses. Unless it is...who the hell knows anymore?