Chapter 13 – A Day in the Life: Cadet Wilde

“Good morning cadets, it’s another beautiful day!”

Nick groaned as Major Friedkin banged her way into the dorm room at 5:30 am, shouting her usual morning wake up call as she turned on all the lights. Nick missed the lazy morning in bed he’d been able to indulge in with Judy when he’d last been home, two weeks ago. It was the start of June now and they were fast approaching the longest day of the year. As a nocturnal mammal, Nick hated the summer months.

Aware that if he dithered he’d find a bucket of ice water thrown over him, Nick sat up on his bunk, careful to avoid smacking his head on the ceiling. “Good morning princess!” Randon, the only wolf cadet and the occupier of the bed beneath Nick’s, called out as he lifted a paw, pushing Nick’s mattress from underneath to jostle the fox. It had become a running joke for Randon, calling Nick princess. Nick’s love of sleep had reminded the wolf of a story his mom use to read to his sister, about a princess called Sleeping Beauty.

“Good morning, Randy.” The nickname slipped off his tongue. The first time the wolf had introduced himself Nick had asked him to repeat his name several times. Apparently his mom had wanted to call him Brandon, but his dad had hated it. In the end, they’d settled on Randon. Nick was positive Brandon would have been a much better name. Regardless, he garnered much joy out of shortening it to Randy.

“Damn straight I am. You’re the only one whose been home to get laid.” The wolf shook his head, moving off his bed to stretch.

Nick jumped down from his bunk, sticking his landing. “I didn’t get laid when I went home.” He clarified for what felt like the hundredth time. He’d come back smelling strongly of Judy and his fellow cadets had picked up on it the moment he’d sauntered back into the dorm room. The teasing had been merciless since.

“Yeah, and I’m the Mayor of Zootopia,” Horton called from his bed a few feet away.

Nick’s fellow cadets laughed and the fox shook his head fondly. They were idiots, but they were also part of his academy family. Some of them hadn’t liked him, to begin with, and he could see a few were still apprehensive, but Nick didn’t let it bother him. Grabbing his training clothes, he changed quickly, grateful that this year’s intake hadn’t included any females.

“Ten mile run this morning boys.” Major Friedkin started to usher them out of the dorm room, leading them out into one of the fields around the main building of the academy. “As per usual, you have an hour and a half to complete your run. Breakfast will be served at 8 am. It’s now 5:45 am. You have 15 minutes to warm up and you’ll have 30 minutes after your run to stretch and shower.”

Nick exhaled. Years on the street had made him fast on his hind paws, he knew he could complete the 10 miles in under an hour and a half, but he’d rather be in bed. They weren’t being judged on who was the fastest, there were too many speedy mammals at the academy with an unfair advantage, but they were being judged by their ability to pace themselves and not collapse into a heap at the finish line.

Realising he needed to warm up, Nick set about stretching. His mind wandered though, body working on muscle memory. He could do this routine blindfolded. The sound of Major Friedkin’s starting whistle a few minutes later spurred Nick into action. He turned sharply, taking off in the direction of the cross-country running route. Up ahead he saw Randon, followed closely behind by Tony. Behind him, he could hear several other cadets, including the unmissable sound of Horton’s massive hooves slamming against the ground. The poor elephant had to lug his 5500kg weight 10 miles. For once Nick was grateful he was a small mammal.

Nick set a steady pace; hind paws pounding the grassy ground of the academy’s cross-country trail. The rhythm was hypnotic, and he was familiar with the route now. From the open fields around the academy, Nick carried on into the nearby woods, never losing sight of Randon and Tony. The path narrowed, the grasses of the fields beneath his hind paws becoming the dirt of the woodland track. The open space closed in on him, tall beech trees stretching upwards, battling for sunlight and space. The lush green leaves of the trees created a canopy over the path, only allowing some of the limited morning light through. Nick was grateful for his sharp night vision as he bounded over some unearthed tree roots hidden in the dark. The cool morning air burned his lungs but the feeling of running, without being chased by angry mammals that he’d hustled, was exhilarating. In his whole life he’d never left the city limits, but on his way to the academy, he’d been glued to the window. He found himself enjoying the countryside, the wide-open spaces and the fresh air. He’d have to speak to Judy, see if they could organise camping or hiking holidays. She was a country girl; she’d probably love it.

Judy. Nick’s thoughts turned to the bunny he loved as he kept running, kept his steady pace and his eyes on the wolf and tiger up ahead. It had been a big deal, asking his mom to go and get Judy’s birthday present. He knew the importance of the jewellery; his mom had drilled it into him since he’d been old enough to understand. His mom had always worn her bracelet until his father had died. Nick could remember the two charms on it – a playing card and a jukebox. When he’d decided to ask his mom to get the bracelet made for Judy, Nick had thrown together a quick sketch on a scrap of paper of what he was after, posting it to her along with an IOU. It would take him several pay cheques to pay her back, but Judy was worth it. Nick knew it had been sneaky of him not to explain the meaning behind the bracelet to Judy when he’d gifted it to her, but he’d been afraid – afraid she’d reject it, afraid she wouldn’t return the sentiment, afraid it would damage their friendship. He wanted her to have it though, wanted her to know she was important to him, the most important mammal in his life beside his mom.

His thoughts shifted to Catstro. It was liberating, not having his crippling debt, but he knew it had come at a great personal cost to Judy. She was still working for Mr. Otterton as a delivery girl on her days off from the ZPD, still kitsitting a few nights a week too. During their phone call last week Nick had tried to convince her to cut back on her extra jobs, that they didn’t need the money now that Catstro was gone, but his sweet bunny had wanted to keep working, to build up a slush-fund for them. It made Nick feel a little inadequate. He knew that in modern society females were more independent, that they didn’t need to rely on a male to provide for them, but Nick liked the idea of providing, liked the idea of being able to take care of Judy.

He’d bought her the bracelet as a token of his love and commitment to her, as well as it being a warning to other canines. The sight of Judy wearing it had stirred some deep possessive feelings in him, made him want to claim her and mark her, love her and knot her. Those thoughts terrified him. He’d never wanted that before with any mammal. Judy though, she was different. She was good and sweet, caring and beautiful, and Nick knew time was running out. It was getting harder and harder to hide how much she meant to him and he’d have to come clean soon. He cursed, remembering that he hadn’t picked up a book on rabbit customs and culture while he’d been back in the city. He’d ask his mom tomorrow during their call. It would be embarrassing, but his mom knew how he felt about Judy.

Breathing a little heavier now than he had been a few minutes prior, the path taking a turn up a steep incline, Nick could feel the back of his calves burning. Eyes ahead he caught sight of Tony suddenly tripping. Randon was further ahead, oblivious to Tony’s tumble. Nick slowed to a jog, coming to a stop by the tiger on the ground. “Come on.” He offered out a paw, knowing he wouldn’t be able to lift the Bengal off the ground if he was injured.

“Damn tree roots got me,” Tony growled, taking Nick’s offered paw. Climbing slowly back onto his hind paws, Tony flexed, checking he hadn’t damaged anything.

“This path isn’t the safest, I’ll grant you that.” Nick conceded. He’d already had to jump over several exposed tree routes. “Come on, we’ll keep pace together.” He offered, hearing the sound of Horton approaching. Several other cadets had overtaken them while Nick had been helping Tony up. “We’ll also keep pace with Horton. We can cross the line together, like The Three Mouseketeers.”

Tony offered the fox stony silence, lifting an eyebrow. They hadn’t had the best start. Tony hadn’t wanted a fox at the academy, questioned how he was even allowed to be there, but when he’d been struggling to conquer the ice wall Nick had told him to use his claws as mini ice picks. Sure enough, by following his advice, Tony had been able to make it up and over the wall with ease.

“Yeah okay, that wasn’t funny. It’s 6:45 am, sue me.” Nick shrugged. Tony snorted, amused.

The sound of Horton’s heavy footsteps and breathing coming to a standstill next to them made both smaller mammals look up. “I hate running.”

“We can tell.” Nick shot back, earning himself a light thwack around the back of his head from the elephant.

“We have 45 minutes and we’re just over halfway through, come on.” Nick really wanted to finish within the allotted time. He didn’t want to risk underperforming and losing his phone privileges, along with his trips back home. That, and he was craving a shower and some breakfast.

The three mammals started to run again, remaining steady. Nick led the pack, jumping over exposed tree roots, giving the tiger and elephant behind him some clues as to where to be careful. The woodland path soon opened back out, revealing the grassy fields of the academy. Though tempted to sprint ahead, to really push himself for the last leg of his run, Nick maintained his speed. Crossing the line with 10 minutes to spare, Nick let out a sigh of relief. It wasn’t his fastest time, but he’d stopped to help his fellow cadets. He found himself enjoying the chance to help other mammals for once.

Once showered, Nick joined his fellow cadets in the canteen, taking his usual table with Randon, Tony, and Horton. The food still hadn’t improved in all the weeks he’d been training, but some food was better than no food. He missed his moms cooking though and he absently wondered what Judy’s cooking would taste like. They’d gone out for food when Nick had been home and before he’d left to start at the academy. Perhaps she’d cook for him the next time he was granted leave.

Clicking fingers in his face snapped Nick out of his thoughts. “Earth to Wilde, come in Wilde.” Randon tried to grab his attention.

“Sorry, my mind was elsewhere.” Nick apologised, stabbing his fork into the pancakes on his plate.

“On a certain fluffy bunny?” Tony teased from his seat to Nick’s left, his elbow coming out to catch Nick’s side.

Wincing at the sharp jab to his side, Nick rolled his eyes. “With the way you keep going on about her, someone might think you have a thing for her.” Nick deflected.

“Think she’d be up for some stripes in her life?” Tony had seen a few photos of the bunny, her face splashed all over the newspapers in the city countless times. She was a pretty thing. He’d initially blamed her for the uprising in the city after the night howler case. He’d been forced to flee with his wife to the countryside for a few weeks when their neighbours had turned on them. He hadn’t wanted to risk his wife getting hurt. He was still a little bitter, yes, but when Wilde spoke about the rabbit he could see that she’d been a little naive at the time. When he’d voiced his concerns, earning himself the mother of all glares from the fox now sat beside him, Nick had assured him that Judy was different now, aware of what she was saying and the impact it could have. Tony would have to see for himself in the future, he had no doubts their paths would cross at some point, but for now, he would take Nick’s word for it.

The warning yip aimed at Tony was out of Nick’s mouth before he could stop it. “Dammit.” He hadn’t meant to, but his sudden surge of possessiveness had been uncontrollable. He figured it wasn’t healthy, the way he hated even the thought of someone taking Judy from him, but with very little in his life he wanted to hold on to the greatest treasure he had.

The canteen fell silent, all eyes turning to look at Nick. Tony’s eyes had widened, the tiger leaning back in surprise. “Woah, Wilde. I was only joking.”

“I’m sorry, that wasn’t polite.” Nick found himself apologising again for another uncontrolled vocal cue. He’d thought the one at Savannah Central was embarrassing, but this one was worse. “What is it about her that keeps making me use vocal cues?”

“No, it’s cool.” Tony raised a paw, eyes on the fox as he started to piece it all together.

“Nothing to see here, back to your meals,” Horton told the other cadets in the room, glaring at those who tried to keep their focus on their table.

Dropping to a hushed tone, Tony spoke. “You honestly care for her, don’t you?” While he’d enjoyed tormenting the fox about the little bunny waiting at home for him, he’d never actually believed there was anything serious between them. The rumour mill had said the bunny cop was as straight-laced as they came, so even the idea of her being in an interspecies relationship was crazy to him. He’d thought the bunny simply worked off some steam with Nick, gossip suggested they were amorous creatures and the entire district dedicated to them suggested they couldn’t keep it in their pants, but he’d never factored in that the two of them might actually have deeper feelings for one another.

Nick gave a short, sharp nod. His gaze was settled on his food as he played with it, no longer feeling hungry.

Nick’s confirmation made Tony feel like a jerk. He’d been tormenting the fox by his side for weeks now about the rabbit, suggesting he was using her for sex given the connotations associated with her species. Finding out that Nick’s affections for the rabbit cop ran deeper made him feel awful for being so crass. “Does she know?”

“No.” Nick kept to short, clipped responses.

“She could feel the same?” Tony offered. He didn’t want to get Nick’s hopes up, but at the same time, he knew the rabbit often sent Nick care packages and letters. Hook-ups weren’t really known for that. His mistress hadn’t sent him a single letter since he’d left for the academy. He didn’t know if the rabbit did anything else for Nick as while he and the fox had formed a sort of friendship, he knew Wilde was closer to Randon, finding familiarity with a mammal of his own species.

“Doubt it.” Nick was more than capable and willing to have a heart to heart with Judy, but he wasn’t quite prepared to do the same with the mammals sat at the table with him.

“Wilde, you need to tell her. She deserves to know. She has dinner with your mom weekly, you two talk every week, she sends you care packages every fortnight, and heck, Wilde, you mention her all the time so I’m absolutely sure she talks about you all the time.” Randon butted in. “It sounds to me like she cares for you an awful lot. You need to tell her when you next go home.”

“I know, and I will. You don’t have to mother me, Randy. My own mom is bad enough as it is.” Nick rolled his eyes comically, slipped back into humour; uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.

Sensing that Nick was done talking about, Randon let it go. He’d said his piece, now it was up to Nick to follow through. “Is your mom hot?”

Nick, Tony, and Horton groaned, all leaning back in their seats. “You’re disgusting.” Nick shook his head. He was used to the question, many con-mammals had asked about his mom when he’d been living on the streets. It wasn’t something he’d ever escape – photos of his mom had been plastered all over newspapers when she’d been younger, protesting with his father. A quick Zoogle of his family name gave most mammals all the info and photos they needed.

“It’s part of my charm.” Randon shrugged, leaning back in his chair with a lazy grin. He’d successfully moved the conversation along and eased the fox’s discomfort.

“No wonder you’re single.” Horton tutted. Though he engaged in the boyish banter his mom had raised him to be a gentlemammal.

“I’ll have you know that I’m single because I’m simply too much mammal for most she-wolves.” Randon had enjoyed a few ladies over the years, but he’d never wanted to settle down with any of them. There were too many fish in the sea, and he wanted to try them all.

“Keep telling yourself that.” Tony retorted. The brief conversation with Wilde made Tony think about his wife. He loved her, loved her with all of his heart and soul, they were kithood sweethearts, but their sex life had been lacking. That was where his mistress factored in. She was into the kinkier stuff, and Tony’s wife wasn’t. He and his wife had experimented and she’d given it her all, but it hadn’t been to her tastes and had left her feeling bad afterwards. Tony had never wanted her to feel that way again, so he hadn’t pushed her for more interesting sex since. Now though, he wondered whether he was making his wife miserable. He hadn’t told her about his mistress, but his wife had a good nose on her, she’d probably smelt the other feline all over him. The thought made his heart clench. His wife always carried herself with dignity, always sang his praise and loved him, and yet he was skulking around behind her back. His wife deserved better. He vowed to do something about it when he was allowed home.

“Cadets! Breakfast is over. Time for your morning’s training.” Major Friedkin barked, the canteen suddenly a flurry of activity as they cleared away their plates, heading off to their morning’s training.

Back outside, Nick looked up at the monkey bars. Major Friedkin had decided that today would be Rainforest district training. Monkey bars, vine climbing, and torrential rain were all on the cards. Nick had struggled with the monkey bars initially, the rails a little too thick for him to wrap a paw around comfortably, but he’d worked out that if he took them quickly enough, put enough swing in his forward momentum, he made it across with no problems.

Major Friedkin decided to scupper his plan.

Hosepipe in paw, she drenched the area, leaving the spray on to soak the cadets as they tried to cross the bars without falling into the mud pit below. Nick wondered for a moment why he’d even bothered showering after his run if he was just going to get soaking wet again. Thankfully he didn’t fall into the mud pit as he crossed the bars fifteen times, but his arms were burning, his paws aching from the rough treatment, and his issued training clothes clung to him uncomfortably. Major Friedkin was relentless.

Giving them only a few minutes to catch their breath once the bars were done, she moved them onto the vine climb. Thankfully, she kept the hosepipe away from them this time. Arms and paws sore from the monkey bars, Nick stared at the vine in front of him. With a deep sigh, he pushed himself up, jumping a little before grabbing onto it. Trying to hide his discomfort, he managed to clamp his hind paws around the slippery vine. Hauling himself up the vine, Nick was grateful for his small size once again. While the larger mammals at the academy were able to grip the vine higher up, and therefore start climbing from a higher point, they had more weight to pull up with them.

Major Friedkin made them climb the vines and safely descend fifteen times, and Nick was pretty sure the polar bear got some form of enjoyment in seeing some of the cadets fall into the mud below. When she finally declared that it was lunchtime Nick was beyond grateful. He’d known that the academy would be tough, he wasn’t stupid, you couldn’t become a cop if you weren’t physically fit, but he hadn’t realised just how tough it would be, especially for someone as small as him. It gave him a greater sense of respect for Judy’s accomplishments.

Lunch was a more subdued affair than breakfast. They’d all had to shower again to remove the mud and dirt from their fur, and Nick barely stopped himself from yawning several times as he ate his salmon. The afternoon’s session would be in the classroom, much to his relief. During his youth Nick had fallen asleep a few times at his desk, late nights at his family store helping his dad had tired the young kit out. If Major Friedkin had no problem throwing ice water over him to get him out of his bunk, Nick didn’t want to know what she’d do to him if she caught him sleeping in her class.

Once lunch was over and the cadets were shepherded into the classroom, Nick took his usual seat at the front. Being small meant being front and centre. Randon took his usual chair to Nick’s left, while Tony took the seat to his right. Horton was all the way at the back of the room; his large size meaning anyone behind him wouldn’t be able to see the board. When Nick had first arrived at the academy and sat at the small desk at the front, a very familiar lingering scent had filled his nostrils. Judy. Nick had spent that first class half-listening, too engrossed in the smell. Now that he’d been sat at the desk for several weeks, her scent had all but gone, his own replacing it. He felt sorry for whatever mammal would sit in the seat next. He knew he had a distinct scent, all foxes did. At least Judy didn’t seem to mind it. “No. Your mind is not going there. You need to pay attention, Wilde.”

Standing at the front of the room, Major Friedkin looked over the cadets. “Alright, today’s class is on taking down criminals who are larger than you.”

“Then why’s Horton here? He could just sit his large ass on the criminals and the problem would be solved.” Tony piped up, snickering.

“Watch it Tony, or I’ll sit on you.” Horton shot from the back of the room. A balled up piece of paper sailed through the air seconds later, smacking Tony on the back of the head. The tiger whined, rubbing his head.

Nick couldn’t stop his laugh, and neither could the rest of the cadets. Major Friedkin even had to hold back her snort. The boys in this years intake were a handful, and without any girls to make them toe the line and reduce their boyish behaviour there had been a few instances where things had gotten a little out of control. “Settle down, settle down.” She hushed the room; pleased to see the cadets listen and shut up. Depositing their notebooks onto Wilde’s desk, she watched as the fox found his, before passing the pile on to Tony. “Take notes today, we’re going to cover a lot of ground.”

Once all the cadets had their notebooks and pens, Major Friedkin started to list the ways in which to safely bring down a larger mammal. “Paw-to-paw combat is usually seen as a last resort, but I feel it needs a mention and you will receive some training in it. Mammals larger than you will no doubt be more powerful, and as their fight or flight instincts will have invariably kicked in they will also be working on a surge of adrenalin and will try anything to get out of your reach. The ZPD doesn’t advise the use of paw-to-paw, but accepts that in some instances where all else fails it can prove useful.” She explained, watching as the cadets scribbled notes. During their third week she’d thrown the cadets into the boxing ring, trying to figure out who was natural fighter and who needed some work. Wilde had outmanoeuvred all of his opponents but had been unable to take any of them down. She’d concluded the session by showing them her favourite tape – Officer Hopps knocking out one of her fellow cadets last year. She’d secretly enjoyed the look on Wilde’s face as he’d watched his future partner take down the rhino. He’d be in for one hell of a ride after graduation.

“Repellent spray is only available for certain species of mammals, and the chances of you carrying a spray suitable for the mammal you’re trying to take down is slim to none. Irritants that may affect one mammal may not work on another and you would be wasting your time and risking getting very close to an agitated criminal for very little payoff. In windy conditions, repellent is all but useless and the effects of it are not always instant. Some mammals choose to carry repellents for their own protection and the ZPD does not prohibit this.” Major Friedkin continued. Nick scribbled down as much as he could, wanting to keep decent notes so that when it came time for the final exams he would have plenty to study from. He was pretty certain Judy would have some of her old notes, but he didn’t want to rely on them. Besides, part of him felt using her notes would be like cheating. “You’re a changed mammal, Wilde.”

The conversation about repellents reminded Nick of the first time he met Judy, stood in Jumbeaux’s Café. He’d spotted the little can on her belt the moment she’d interrupted his conversation with the elephant, and though he’d been concerned that she was carrying it he’d been pleased she hadn’t decided to use it on him. His parents had always told him that should a cop pull repellent on him, he was to slowly lift his paws and submit, answer all their questions and not run his mouth. He’d followed their advice all but once, and Nick still winced even now when he thought back to the extreme pain he’d experienced when he’d had repellent sprayed all over his face and in his eyes. The fact Judy no longer carried it, no longer felt the need to carry it, made him smile. She’d come a long way.

“Taser’s are the ZPD’s weapon of choice, along with tranquilisers. In the past only authorised firearms officers were allowed to carry tasers but now its been rolled out to all officers. You’ll receive training in how to safely use them later on in the semester. The benefits of tasers are that they are very effective if a mammal is hit with them. The ZPD issue tasers feature a dial for the officer to select the size of mammal they’re dealing with, to ensure that no mammals are killed from experiencing a larger voltage than is safe for them. Moving targets at a safe distance are hard to tag, and a clean hit can be very tricky. If the weapon snags on their outer clothing it may not be as effective as it should be. All of the above can be said for tranquilisers too, and you’ll also receive training in handling and deploying them later on in the semester.” Major Friedkin pulled up images on the interactive whiteboard from her computer, showing the cadets the ZPD issue tasers and tranquilisers.

Tasers. The thought made Nick shake his head fondly. Judy’s dad had tried to give her a taser when she’d first moved to the city and the fox was pretty sure Mr. Hopps still had it kicking around. Nick was also pretty sure that when the opportunity came around for him to meet Mr. Hopps the buck would remind him that he owned said taser, and wouldn’t hesitate to use it if Nick were a pain in the tail. Sure his bunny had told him that her parents had come a long way since she’d first joined the ZPD and moved to the city, but some habits were hard to break and it didn’t help that his species was commonly associated with being shifty, sly, and untrustworthy. Nick only hoped he’d be able to win Mr. Hopps over.

The class continued, Major Friedkin listing the various ways in which larger criminals could be brought down and subdued. Eventually she had to end the session so the cadets could have dinner. They were allowed two hours free time in the evening after dinner to unwind and bond, write letters home or catch an early night. She had some post to hand out this evening too, and she was aware that it was Wilde’s night to call Officer Hopps.

After the cadets had finished dinner Major Friedkin started to hand out their post. “Wilde, package for you.” She called out into the common room, watching as the fox popped his head up from the game of cards he’d been playing with Tony. It was her job to check all incoming and outgoing mail and so she’d opened the package this morning before waking the cadets, and though she hadn’t read the letter inside she’d spotted an interesting item at the bottom that had made her smile. She was also very familiar with the handwriting, having had several parcels from the same person arrive at the academy before.

Curious as to who was sending him an unexpected parcel, Nick abandoned the game, offering his cards to Randon. The wolf took his place, groaning as he looked over the awful hand Wilde had been dealt.

“You’ll want to open this in private. Go to the canteen, I’ll stop by in thirty minutes with the phone for you.” She whispered, handing the fox the package.

Frowning, Nick took it from her, offering a small smile of thanks. Leaving the common room he made his way to the canteen, pushing the door open and taking his usual seat. Placing the parcel down on the table, he took a moment to look at the handwriting on the box. It wasn’t his mom’s, and it wasn’t Judy’s either. Peeling back the tape Major Friedkin had used to reseal it, Nick opened the box.

The first thing he spotted, sitting on top of the items inside, was a handwritten note folded in two. His name was scrawled on the outside of it. Picking it up, Nick unfolded it and started to read.

Nick,

I hope you’re doing well. I also hope the fact I’m sending you a little care package isn’t too strange. I used to send them to Judy all the time while she was at the academy.

It was lovely to finally get to speak to you a few weeks back; Judy is always talking about you. I apologise again for jumping to conclusions at the time. Don’t worry, my kits have all been told that it was a big misunderstanding.

Judy tells me that you’re fond of our family farm blueberries, so I’ve included a large punnet of them in this package for you. They should be good for several days.  I’ve also included some homemade strawberry and white chocolate cookies for you. I’m not sure if they’re something you like but I may have gotten a little carried away baking over the weekend, trying out some new recipes from Goatdon Ramsey. Please let me know your thoughts on them if you try them, I’m not offended in the slightest if they’re not to your taste.

There are a few other bits and pieces in this box, including some bug products. I don’t know what you’re a fan of so I picked up a little bit of everything. Judy also mentioned that you’re not too fond of the sunshine, and when I went shopping the other day I spotted a pair of aviators I think may suit you, so I’ve included those too.

At the very bottom of this box is a book I recommend you read. Now please don’t take this the wrong way, but I saw the way you looked at my daughter during our call. I have 130 sons, so trust me when I say that I know you adore Judy very much.

Don’t worry, I don’t think Judy has noticed how you look at her – she’s not very experienced in matters of the heart. If you’re intending on telling my daughter how you feel though, perhaps even acting on those feelings, then this book should help you. I’ve gone through and placed sticky tabs on pages containing very important information, and I’ve pencilled in a few small notes on other pages. I hope you don’t think it’s too forward of me.

If you have any questions, or if there’s anything in particular food-wise that you’re craving, please send me a letter and let me know. I’ve made sure our home address is at the top of this note. Don’t worry; my kits know they’re not to open my mail on pain of eating onions for a week!

I hope you’ll come and visit soon; it would be lovely to have you and Judy home for a weekend.

With love,

Bonnie Hopps

The unexpected care package from Bonnie and her thoughtfulness at including not only his favourite blueberries but also bug-based candy made him smile. Placing the note down he pulled out the packet of cookies, giving them a look over before he put them down on the table. He was more than happy to try Bonnie’s baking and give her his honest feedback. Removing the punnet of blueberries, Nick couldn’t help but throw a berry into his mouth, groaning at the sweet taste. He had no idea how the Hopps family managed to make his favourite fruit even more delicious, but he could quite happily live on their blueberries. A handful of bug-based treats came next, all of them ones Nick had seen before but hadn’t eaten in years. His tight budget had meant such treats were few and far between. Producing the aviators next, Nick grinned. They looked awesome, and he couldn’t wait to try them out. The book at the very bottom of the box caught his attention next. His new aviators joined the pile of goodies from Bonnie, and Nick dipped his paw into the box to pull out the recommended book.

“A Young Leporidae’s Guide to Love, Family, and Life.” He read the title aloud, noting the drawings of rabbits and hares on the front. Turning it over he skim-read the blurb. Without access to Zoogle, Nick only had the book to go on, but it looked like it covered a whole range of topics. Flicking through the pages he saw several of Bonnie’s sticky tabs and pencil notes. The book also seemed to include illustrations. One illustration, in particular, made him stop flicking through the pages, and he found himself staring at a sketch of a doe’s reproductive system. Scribbled in pencil in Bonnie’s handwriting, he found a tip – ‘don’t forget to keep your claws filed, we’re delicate.’

His cheeks and ears burned. He knew Judy’s parents were open about everything but he hadn’t expected them to be that open with him. He spared a moment to glance at his paws, at the sharp claws there. He’d have to get a claw file. He’d need to keep them somewhat sharp, they were useful weapons should he ever be backed into a corner, but he didn’t want to risk hurting Judy with them when they were intimate. If you become intimate. You still haven’t told her yet.”

Curious, he returned his attention to the book and flipped through the subsequent pages, finding a detailed description of the rabbit mating process. He knew mammals had mating seasons, for him it was the winter months, but he was surprised to read that rabbits were ready to go all year round, that mating triggered the does body into releasing an egg, rather than relying on cycling hormones. What Nick found even more surprising was that rabbits were receptive to mating every 14 days out of 16. His eyes widened. “Oh hell. That explains the whole ‘breeding like rabbits’ thing.” If Judy returned his feelings she’d be constantly ready to mate. He’d die from too much sex. “There are worst ways you could go, Wilde.”

Overwhelmed he flipped through a few more pages, finding himself at the section about rabbit courtship. Skimming the pages he discovered that rabbits weren’t too different from foxes when it came to courtship, but there were certain elements to courtship that were uniquely Leporidae. He read that does often boxed their potential mates with their paws, and he was reminded of all the times Judy had playfully punched him. He also read that flowers were very important for does, a way for bucks to convey their feelings. Bonnie had scribbled another note, letting him know that plant husbandry and flower meanings were very important in their family. She’d also slipped in a small scrap of paper discussing the meanings of different flowers, all of which seemed to centre on feelings of love and joy and commitment. She’d circled and underlined tulips. Nick wasn’t stupid; he knew it was a hint. Shaking his head he smiled. He’d take Judy some flowers, including tulips, the next time he went home. “Thanks, Bonnie.”

A sharp knock on the canteen door caught his attention and Nick turned to the noise. “Phone time, Wilde.” He heard Major Friedkin call. Placing down the book he vowed that he’d read it in its entirety over the next week or two, but he’d have to read at night when the other cadets were sleeping. Thankfully his night vision and naturally nocturnal state would help him. Crossing to the canteen door he opened it to find Major Friedkin stood there, offering a phone down to him. “I take it you opened your package?”

“I did, thanks for letting me open it in here.” Nick hadn’t expected such kindness from the polar bear. He knew that if he’d opened the package in front of the other cadets, pulled out the book or the note, that some of them would’ve taken great pleasure in tormenting him over it. At least now that Tony, Randon, and Horton were aware of his deeper feelings for Judy they might back off a little with the teasing.

Major Friedkin offered the fox a smile. She knew Bonnie Hopps handwriting like the back of her paw. The doe had sent Judy countless letters and packages while she’d been at the academy. When Major Friedkin had been going through the box and had found the book at the bottom, she’d known that if the other cadets saw it then Wilde would be the butt of even more jokes, that there would be more whispers about the first fox at the academy. The tod didn’t need that. Major Friedkin could be hard on the cadets, would always push them to be their best, but she knew that some of them struggled, some were a little more emotional than others, and some were picked on a little more than she liked. Wilde fell into the final category. Letting him open the package alone in the canteen hadn’t been any skin off her nose, but it’d given the tod the chance to look over the contents in peace. “Thirty minutes.” She reminded the fox as he took the phone, offering her a quick nod before he shut the door.

Taking his seat back at the table, Nick typed in Judy’s number on the Muzzletime app before he hit the call button. While waiting for her to answer he contemplating whether he should tell her about his package from her mom. While he wanted to come clean and mention it to Judy, he also kind of liked the idea of keeping it to himself. He had several questions already for the Hopps matriarch and he was worried that if Judy found out he was talking to Bonnie, she’d ask questions about what they were discussing. He’d keep it a secret for now, but if Judy brought it up then he’d come clean.

“Nick!” The call finally connected, Judy’s happy smile filling the screen.

“Hey, Carrots.” The sight of her made his tail wag happily. “I’ve missed you, how have you been?”

Judy’s features softened. “I’ve missed you too. I’ve been good, you?”

Nick reflected on the past week, all the training and lessons he’d undertaken. “Yeah, I’ve been pretty good too. What did you do this weekend?” He settled into his seat, knowing Judy would probably talk for a while. He paid attention to everything she said, but he couldn’t deny that sometimes he just liked the sound of her voice.

“Mr. Otterton needed me to make a huge delivery to the Marshlands. The order was for 200 red roses. 200, Nick! The deer that answered the door was so surprised that she started crying and blabbered on about how she would forgive him.” Judy had figured that the deer’s mate had done something to upset her and the roses were his way of apologising.

“Maybe he royally screwed up and thought the grander the gesture the more likely he’d be forgiven?” Nick shrugged. He thought over the top gestures were sometimes conducted solely for attention. Small gestures could be just as meaningful and important and have an even larger effect by remaining personal and intimate.

“Perhaps, but I don’t understand why he couldn’t just buy her a dozen roses and go to her house and talk things out with her, apologise to her face if he really did something wrong.” Judy felt like the mammal that had sent the roses had been skirting around whatever the problem was, hoping 200 roses would fix it. She never wanted that to happen to her. 200 roses would be nice, yes, but they would never fix a problem.

“Yeah, but for some mammals flowers and gestures are important.” His gaze dropped to the book on the table and to the scrap of paper Bonnie had slipped inside of it, thoughts wandering to the flowers he’d take for Judy. He’d most certainly take her some tulips, maybe even some heliotrope.

“I guess. Flowers are pretty, and I’d never say no to them, but if I ever got into a fight with someone I’d want them to at least talk things through with me, not think that they can send me some roses and everything will be fine.” Judy huffed.

“Not all mammals think like you, Carrots.” Nick pointed out, enjoying the little frown on Judy’s face and the way her nose was twitching.

“Yeah, I know. What did you get up to today?” Judy switched topics, itching to know what Nick had been up to. She didn’t think her days were all that interesting, especially without Nick by her side, but the fox always asked her and always seemed genuinely interested in her response.

“Up at the crack of dawn again for a 10-mile run, followed by some Rainforest district training.” Nick’s body was still a little sore and achy from the morning’s activities, and though he’d intended on falling asleep as soon as he was in his bunk, now that he had the book from Bonnie in his paws he figured he’d be functioning on little sleep for the next few days.

“Please tell me Major Friedkin has turned the hose on you?” It had been the worst part of the Rainforest training for Judy. With her paws only just able to grip onto the dry monkey bars, the moment Major Friedkin had soaked them all with water she’d been doomed. She’d landed in the mud countless time and it had taken multiple tries and endless hours of working out for her to finally make her way across the wet bars.

Nick groaned, remembering the freezing cold water soaking him. “Yes. Thanks for warning me about that.” He grumbled.

Judy laughed, smile widening. “I can’t tell you everything Slick, need to leave some surprises for you, keep you on your toes.”

“Oh I’m very much on my toes here, you don’t need to worry.” Shaking his head, Nick thought about some of the other obstacles that had caught him off guard. He’d conquered them all with some practice, but once he’d mastered them Major Friedkin had made them harder for him, pushed him a little more. “Anyway, after that she had us climb vines for a while before finally letting us have lunch.”

“And after lunch?” Judy pressed for more information. She knew Nick’s time at the academy was much different than hers, and she couldn’t help but be curious.

“We had a classroom session, on how to take down criminals who’re larger than us.” Nick had never enjoyed school, he’d attended because he’d had to, but he was actually enjoying the classroom sessions at the police academy. The fact the information he was learning would prove useful in the real world made it far more interesting.

“Don’t you have an elephant as one of your fellow cadets?” Nick had mentioned his fellow cadets a few times, and Judy knew his social circle consisted of an elephant, a tiger, and a wolf. She thought a lesson taking down large criminals was pointless for the biggest mammal of them all.

“Yeah, Tony pointed out that it was pointless for Horton to be present.” He laughed, remembering the flying ball of paper that had smacked the mouthy tiger on the head.

The sound of Nick’s laughter made Judy smile. He was making friends and getting along with the other cadets. Nick had acquaintances, and Finnick had been his business partner, but she knew Nick had very few mammals that he could class as his friends.

“Major Friedkin gave us the low-down on a bunch of weapons we could end up using in the future, including tasers funnily enough.” Nick couldn’t resist the playful dig.

“Don’t worry, I’m sticking to my promise of not letting any of my family members near you with one.” Judy had spoken to her dad last week and he’d informed her that he’d thrown out the fox taser he’d purchased for her when she’d left for the city. He was a changed mammal.

“I’ll just have to stand out of range. 25,000 volts doesn’t sound fun.” He knew the voltage of tasers was different for different mammals. 25,000 volts would be enough to incapacitate him, but wouldn’t have much of an effect on a mammal the size of Horton. “What did you get up to today?”

Judy sighed, grumbling. “The usual. Wolford and I were doing paperwork for most of the day; we made a couple of arrests this week and let the paperwork slip a little, so we had to spend all day catching up.” Judy decided to omit the fact that she’d gone for lunch with Bandit. She knew how Nick felt about the arctic fox. Besides, truth told Judy had only asked to meet up with Bandit so she could grill him about her bracelet, try and uncover some more information about it. She’d thought he’d be willing to give her information considering he didn’t know Nick. Unfortunately, the arctic fox had flat out refused to tell her anything, parroting Wolford by telling her that she’d have to ask Nick to explain. She was growing impatient, but given her discussion with Wolford, she figured it was a conversation she needed to have in person with Nick, not over the phone. She would have to wait a little while longer to finally get some answers.

Over the past two week’s she’d made several excursions to the boarding up building that had once housed Wilde & Son Tailoring, and during one of her trips she’d spotted a dusty old photo on the wall of Robert and Marian, and around Marian’s wrist had been a bracelet very similar to her own. Judy reasoned that it made sense for Marian to own one, considering they were canine tokens of affection, but it gave her more questions than it did answers.

“Oh, by the way, do you think you’d be able to get some time off in mid-July?” Judy was a little nervous about asking Nick her next question, but her mom had been pestering her and she realised he would have to meet her family at some point. “I was thinking of going home for a weekend for the Carrot Day Festival, and I was wondering if you’d like to come with me? I know it might not be your kind of thing, so don’t feel like you have to come along if you don’t want to.” While introducing Nick to her family did worry her, she knew she couldn’t keep them apart for much longer, especially when her mom already liked him.

Nick blinked, surprised. “You have a whole festival dedicated to carrots?”

Judy shrugged, a little embarrassed. “Yeah, it sounds lame but-“

“No! No, that’s not what I meant.” Nick interrupted. He’d been genuinely surprised, but he was flattered that Judy wanted him to go home with her for the celebration. “I’d love to attend and meet your family.” Nick smiled. Was he terrified of meeting Judy’s huge family? Yes, absolutely, but he knew that it would happen sooner rather than later, and if his care package was anything to go by then he’d already won over Bonnie.

Not quite believing him, Judy sought clarification. “You would? Really?”

“Sure. Just let me know dates and I’ll speak to Major Friedkin.” Nick was positive he’d be able to get the time off. His performance was good and it was still a few weeks away. He was also sure that if he mentioned that he wanted to go to Bunnyburrow to spend time with Judy and her family, Major Friedkin would grant him the time off with no questions asked.

“I’ll let my mom know you might be joining us. She’ll be so happy. Every time she calls she asks how you’re doing.” Her mom always asked about Nick, even though she knew Judy only spoke to him once a week. Her mom was already fond of him, and Judy hoped it would make things easier should Nick return her feelings.

“Your mom is a sweet doe, Carrots.” Nick’s gaze dropped to the items on the table. He’d tried desperately to make a good first impression on the doe and her husband, knowing that if he was going to ask Judy to be his mate in the near future then they’d need to like him, and he was relieved that he seemed to have Bonnie on his side already.

“I also think we need to talk when you next come home.” If the conversation weren’t so serious Judy would’ve laughed at how quickly Nick’s eyes shot up to find her, his ears flattening at her words. “You need to tell me what my bracelet means.” Judy lifted her right paw, bringing her bracelet into view of the camera on her phone. She still hadn’t taken it off. “Every canine I come across reacts to it. Some say it’s interesting and when I ask them why it’s interesting they clam up, and others call me a predo when they see it.”

“You’ve been called a predo?” Nick had to hold back his snarl at the thought of a mammal insulting Judy in such a manner. He was aware of the slur, had heard a few of his old street acquaintances use it before, but it should never be used to describe Judy. Nick had only a moment to panic about the fact that if Judy knew what the slur meant then she might be able to figure out what the bracelet meant too.

“Yeah, by some coyote Wolford and I arrested. He saw my bracelet, called me a predo, and then started making nasty comments.” Judy recalled, trying to hide her disgust. He’d been kept overnight and when Judy and Wolford had gone into work the next day and had bumped into Fangmeyer taking him into questioning, the coyote had been even nastier. He’d made cruel remarks about Nick, uttered several speciest comments about foxes and it had all made Judy so incredibly mad. In the end, she’d put the coyote in his place, informing him that Nick was a much better mammal than he could ever hope to be. She may have also told the coyote that his personality was a pretty great form of birth control.

Nick had never wanted Judy to receive such abuse. He failed to see why loving someone, regardless of his or her species, was wrong. “Carrots, I’m so sorry. That was never my intention when I gave it to you.” He wanted to be sure she knew that.

“I know, Nick. I’d just never had a mammal say it to me before. It’s fine, honestly.” Judy shrugged. She figured the longer she wore the bracelet and the longer she lived and worked with Nick, the more she’d get used to such comments.

“You can take it off, you know, to stop the comments.” It broke Nick’s heart to say it. The bracelet wasn’t meant to be taken off, it was a bad omen for it to be removed, but he’d live with the pain of no longer seeing it around her wrist if it meant that she no longer had to hear cruel remarks. Sometimes he cursed the fact he was born a fox, and that other mammals looked down on him because of his species.

“No. It’s a gift from you; it’s the most beautiful thing I own. I’m not taking if off because of some rude mammals.” Judy found the idea of taking it off absurd. She loved her bracelet, loved that Nick had put so much thought into it. She’d never take it off.

“Carrots…” Nick started; ready to argue with her over it.

“No, Nick. It’s important to me, I’m not going to take it off to spare the feelings of mammals whose opinions don’t matter.” Judy put her hind paw down. The bracelet meant far too much to her, there was no way in hell she was going to take it off.

Knowing it was futile to argue with Judy when she’d made her mind up, Nick conceded. “Okay, but if it gets any worse then please take it off.”

Judy bobbed her head, not wanting to promise anything.

Steering the conversation back on track, Nick sighed. “You’re right though, we should probably talk when I come home.” He silently cursed himself. By giving her the bracelet he’d forced his paw. He’d have no choice but to tell her now. On one paw it terrified him, knowing he would have to bare his soul and heart to her and pray she’d be receptive, but on the other paw, he had a feeling life would be much easier once he had his feelings out in the open.

“Five minutes, Wilde.” Major Friedkin banged on the canteen door, making Nick jump. He hated how short his calls with Judy were, but he knew he was lucky to get some screen-time with her.

Capturing Nick’s attention again, Judy offered him a smile. “Don’t focus too much on it, Nick. Let me know if you can get the 14th to the 16th of July off for the festival.” Judy knew it was futile to tell Nick not to focus on their upcoming conversation, but she had a feeling nothing bad would come of their discussion. They were best friends and had shared their deepest secrets with one another, the death of Nick’s father and his subsequent years of hustling to pay off his debt, and Judy’s actions that had led to Catstro’s death, and they’d come out the other side of those confessions stronger.

“I will don’t worry.” Nick would ask Major Friedkin tomorrow so that he’d be able to give Judy an answer the next time she called. He’d do anything in order to get the time off so he could attend the festival and meet Judy’s family.

“Hey Slick?”

The sound of Judy’s voice broke Nick out of his thoughts. “Yeah?”

“I still miss you.” Judy grinned, wanting to lighten the mood before they ended their call.

Nick laughed, warmth spreading through him. “I miss you too, sweetheart.”

“Call me again same time next week. If you need anything in the meantime send me a letter, okay?” Judy mothered.

Rolling his eyes, Nick couldn’t stop his smile. “Yes, mom.” He couldn’t find it in him to be annoyed with her mothering him. He knew Judy meant well and that she worried while he was away.

Judy’s laugh set off Nick’s, and the pair of them chuckled. Pulling his laughter under control, Nick settled on a semi-serious tone. “I’ll call you next week. Stay safe.” Without him there to watch her six, he worried about her safety. He’d heard only good things about Wolford, figured the experienced cop would have Judy’s back, but that didn’t stop him from being concerned. He hadn’t heard anything from Finnick or his mom about Judy’s emotional state, so he assumed everything was okay now.

“I will. Take care of yourself Slick. Bye!” Judy waved her free paw.

“Bye, Fluff.” He raised his own free paw to give her a small wave back, right before the call clicked off.

Paw falling back to the table he sighed as he set the phone down. Judy wanted to talk. She’d figured out the bracelet had another meaning amongst canines. Nick kicked himself. Judy was smart, so it was no surprise that she’d figured it out, but Nick had been hoping it would take a little longer than the two weeks since he’d given it to her. He guessed his next time home would be for the festival, and though he didn’t really want to have the conversation in Judy’s family home, with her 311 siblings and her parents lurking, he knew he probably wouldn’t have any choice. He’d use the time between now and then to figure out what to say to her.

Nick glanced at the pile of goodies from Bonnie, unable to stop the small smile that tugged at his lips. He packed away the food and aviators, sliding the note into the box. He kept the book in his paw, though. He had some reading to do.

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