Most foxes were not fond of getting wet. Maybe this was true of many fur-covered mammals, who opted to step hesitantly into their showers, water temperature just to their liking, until it became commonplace, the usual, normal. Historians claimed that some animals' ancestors were resistant to the stuff unless it meant pursuing one's prey, or vice versa.
Nick Wilde was not sure if that was true – how much in the biology textbooks actually were when it came to species' past predilections? – but there might have been something to the water part. When he was a kit, his mother took a kindergarten-aged Nick to one of the public pools in Happytown, a watering hole that had since closed due to a recurring leak the city had decided would be too costly to fix. Nick, armed with a yellow innertube and a pair of goggles, waded in for about five minutes before deciding it was not for him. Secretly, his mother had hoped total immersion might nix her son's aversion to baths. Strike that one off the list.
Decades later, Nick no longer had an issue with hygiene – always a positive somewhere, his mom would have said – but though he knew how to swim, he generally chose not to. Instances such as his and Judy Hopps' unfortunate expulsion into the choppy waters outside Cliffside Asylum were an exception, and in that case it certainly beat the alternative.
Which was why he really was not sure of his decision to make Benjamin Clawhauser one of his groomsmammals at that moment.
"Two hours and 55 minutes, Nick!"
"Yeah, come on, Wilde. If I gotta be out here, so do you."
The first voice was Clawhauser's, and it was the sixth time on the minute Nick had heard him in as many minutes. He understood why; the cheetah could be persistent when he meant to be, especially in – but not limited to – instances in which his credit card was in play for the next three hours.
As for the other, well, he had a point, too. If he was going to drag Finnick along to a social gathering, Nick might as well be there for him, since present company was otherwise decidedly not his crowd.
The towel the fox had wrapped around his waist as he exited the private locker room was just for show; he was not naked underneath, nor did he plan to be for the duration of those three hours (never mind it was against the posted rules, anyway). He simply preferred the touch of the fluffy blue material to his fur, a welcome, comforting departure from the scratchy hand-me-downs he had back in his apartment.
This must be part of the way to what mammals wearing those silky robes in four-star hotels must feel, he surmised, and he wondered internally about the rating of the hotel he and Judy were to stay at the following weekend and what its amenity situation would be. Surely the best for honeymooners, right?
The late-afternoon sun was setting behind a fir tree that had been placed at the perimeter of the enclosure into which Nick strode, a strange sight since it was not native to Zootopia outside of Tundratown (he, instead, was downtown). In fact, the entire setting was an odd mishmash of motifs, though the fox could understand to an extent what the owners were going for: a high-altitude terrain much like where monks might retreat for long periods of solitude among dense thickets of arbor stretching as far as the eye could see over mountainous cliffs and inclines. Well, that, but condensed into an area large enough for a few chairs and a steaming pool of water. And a neon palm tree, for reasons unknown.
Relaxing, that was what it was supposed to be. And he thought, under normal circumstances, it might achieve the desired effect.
Then a can of beer almost hit him in the snout.
"Ah! Holy –"
Nick's reflexes were admittedly average for a fox – he had only risen to that level because of the Zootopia Police Department's academy training – so he barely caught the projectile before it impacted with his skull. Not that it would have done much damage, but –
"Ha!" barked Finnick, clapping his paws together with a look of maniacal glee brightening his face. "Good going, Wilde. Don't wanna waste the beverages." He hopped onto the stony deck, water dripping off his fur and into the drains that surrounded the large spa he had been sitting in, and reached into the cooler that was a few paces away, its lid already open and inviting. He pulled out another beer.
"Y'know, since you bought it, I thought you'd be a little more careful with our alcohol, bud," Nick opined with a short laugh, setting the can down on a table beside him. "As in, making sure someone drank it, not letting it explode on the ground because the guy you threw it at got cut from the peewee football team four years running."
"Like I wouldn't've made ya drink it off the ground," muttered Finnick, pulling out another beer. "Gideon, you're empty, right?"
"Er, well, I think I'm gonna pace myself, if ya don't…" started Gideon Grey from the opposite end of the pool's outer lip, an empty beverage next to him as he dangled his legs into the steaming liquid.
"Wrong answer." Along came another airborne can, this one with less of a pronounced force than the one tossed Nick's way. Gideon nearly fumbled it into the hot tub.
Nick chuckled as he undid the towel from around his waist, revealing his swimsuit, a plain teal thing that was faded from years of sitting in his bottom dresser drawer mostly unused. Clawhauser whistled jestingly at the revelation. Nick ignored him.
"I gotta commend you, though, Finn," Nick said, picking up his beer, walking over and dipping a paw diffidently into the water. "Impeccable aim."
"That's what you think. I was aiming below the belt."
It had been like this since 9 a.m. that morning. Nick awoke late, happy for the day off from work and looking to enjoy as much extra shut-eye as possible. He might have managed more had this particular event not been circled on his calendar for a few months by then, keeping him from a slumber that might have stretched into the noon hour.
But Clawhauser was a punctual mammal, and Gideon's train from Bunnyburrow had an 8:30 arrival; the next non-express train would not make it into Zootopia for another five hours. Thus, Nick, stirred by his later-than-usual alarm normally set for two rather than just him, met the pair at a coffee shop nearby, Gideon having dropped his things off at Clawhauser's place, before embarking on a brief morning and early afternoon of sightseeing since the country fox had not seen much in the city outside of that which most visiting mammals saw, like the city center, the Palm Hotel, the types of places locals would not frequent in their spare time.
It gave Clawhauser and Gideon a chance to really meet outside Nick's group text for his groomsmammals; the fox, Nick felt, was an integral addition to his group given Gideon's decision to welcome him to the rabbit-dominated Bunnyburrow when he did not have to, a friendship blossoming from there.
Then Finnick, armed with his cooler of concoctions, joined up with them. He had been supposed to do so earlier in the day rather than after lunch, but he had not, as he put it, been able to face the sun until a few remedies kicked in after his previous night's activities. It was a wonder he was drinking now, Nick thought. The lightweight.
Which brought the motley crew to their current location, some spa in Downtown that Nick had already forgotten the name of. It was Clawhauser's idea; he had been a few times after work, he said, treating himself to one of the saunas when he had had a rough week at the ZPD. If he could get a group together, he had always thought it would be nice to take advantage of one of the rentable outdoor yards that overlooked the city, replete with a private cabana, admittance for alcohol (within reason, though physicians reportedly discouraged the use of it in warmer water) and a sizable hot tub meant to appear similar to a hot spring in a far-off mountain range.
Not bad for a bachelor party, Nick thought.
Well, except for the whole having-to-spend-a-long-period-of-time-in-water thing, but it was a small price to pay.
"What do you think of the water temperature, Nick?" asked Clawhauser, his face scrunched up in the slightest of concerned expressions. "Too hot? Cold? I can adjust it, you know; it's over on the wall –" He went to stand inside the hot tub.
"It's fine, Benji, sit down," Nick replied, waving him off. "Perfect, even."
"Oh, OK, good. Because I can totally change it if not, like I said, I mean, since we're drinking, I didn't wanna get it too hot, and –"
"Besides," Nick cut off the cheetah's eager-to-please ministrations, shooting a glance over at the fennec fox nearby as he slid slowly into the tub himself, "we need you in here. You're the only one of us who can actually touch the bottom of this thing standing up, and I mean, have you seen Finnick lately? I think the old man's shrinking."
"Psssssssssh." Finnick, having been in the midst of a long swig of his beer, clinked his can onto the deck and pushed off into the water, the current of which was only slightly noticeable with the quaint but ever-present bubble of jets beneath the surface. His large tan ears flopped out to the side as he floated on his back, clasping his paws across his chest. "Not much older'n you, loverboy. And look – I can float. Ain't sinkin'. Betcha ya can't."
Nick pressed his paw down on Finnick's chest as the fox floated by, dunking him underwater with little effort. Finnick took the opportunity to spit a steady stream of water from his mouth back at his friend and former con partner when he resurfaced.
"Where's the other guy at, by the way?" the fennec fox asked as he wiped his mouth, shooting Nick an ornery, fang-filled grin as the other lunged for his towel to dry his dripping face. "Or'm I gonna have to make Gideon over here start shotgunning these things so we finish this cooler?"
Gideon could only emit a nervous chuckle as he cradled his beverage.
"I dunno if he's gonna make it," Clawhauser said with a shake of his head. "He said he might meet us at dinner at Moose Jaw later. Busy day today…"
For the first time, Nick looked down and considered the can he held. It was some golden ale from a place called Big Buck Brewing Company, which he felt like he recognized from a roadside billboard either to or from Bunnyburrow.
Seeming to have sensed his question, Gideon drawled a confirmation: "Based in Deerbrooke County, Nick. Everyone drinks it back in Bunnyburrow."
"Ya don't say."
"Ain't my personal favorite," Finnick said, edging back to one of the underwater seats within the spa that could support his diminutive height. "But thought ya should get used to the local flavor since you're gonna be spendin' a lot of holidays in that place til ya die." He nodded at the cooler behind him. "And I got a few of those beer-margarita combinations for the feline over here."
"I like what I like," Clawhauser added with a shrug.
Smiling, Nick reached out to pat the cheetah on the shoulder – a feat he was able to accomplish given his higher-up seat within the hot tub, albeit barely. "No judgment here, pal," he assuaged. "They've been Judy's go-to lately, too."
"Where's Judy today, anyway?" Gideon piped up. "Ya heard from her? She had the day off too, right?"
"I heard from her this morning before we left," Nick said, nodding. "Think some of her aunts and her mom were… taking her out to lunch or something? Not sure what their plans were after that; I don't think Judy even knows."
"Does it involve a stripper?"
"It probably doesn't involve a stripper, Finnick."
"You said probably."
"It might," Gideon chimed in. "Y'know there's a place out a little ways north toward Podunk with 'em, right? Halfway between my place and my cousin's there. Not that I know from personal experience."
"I can't imagine the bunny enjoyin' that, though," Finnick said thoughtfully, popping out of the water and reaching for another beer.
Clawhauser chuckled. "You're not wrong. Judy would either explode or call Nick crying because she happened to so much as brush up against some shirtless hare."
"That actually happened one time," shrugged Nick with a laugh. "Someone she went to high school with hit on her when she was visiting back home, but I guess she didn't realize he was hitting on her."
"Probably Aaron Longfellow," added Gideon.
"Yeah, him. I think one of her sisters told her later, and she ended up calling that night while I was in the middle of a night shift, apologizing, thinking I'd be mad." He closed his eyes as he sank a little deeper into his side of the spa, reclining his head against the lip of the pool. "Think I pretended to be for about 15 seconds. Couldn't help myself."
"Lucky she puts up with ya," said Finnick.
"Yeah. I sorta am."
They sat for a moment, the only sound around them the ever-present sound of bubbles rising gently to the water's surface and, far away, the din of street traffic that was mostly masked somehow, despite the nearest road not being too distant. Nick was not sure how the owners accomplished that effect, but it was certainly a welcome – even compulsory – amenity.
"So, about that other guy…" Finnick started.
"Told ya, he's probably not coming to this leg," repeated Clawhauser.
"Aight. Come here, baker boy. Time to make the donuts."
"I ain't shotgunnin' one of them, man."
"Like hell you ain't! Wilde's already caught up with you and you had a five-minute head start." Finnick jerked his head toward Nick.
Gideon shook his head. "Yeah, but ain't he supposed to be the one gettin' drunk? That's normal, that is."
"Not fun if it's just him."
"Don't one of us got to drive?"
"You've never been in a Zuber before, have ya?"
The vastly different-sized foxes continued to bicker back and forth about the transportation-based features the city had versus the countryside; meanwhile, Nick and Clawhauser's eyes met, the cheetah rolling his eyes knowingly.
"They'll be best friends by the end of the night," Nick remarked with a nonchalant shrug.
"I mean, I like the guy," said Clawhauser. "It's nice having someone who isn't from Zootopia to show around today. Makes it even more fun." His eyes darted away for a moment before returning to meet the fox's gaze. "Fun, right. You're having fun, yeah? Please say yes."
Nick had expected Clawhauser to ask this question; in fact, he was surprised it had not come up sooner. Ever since Finnick had bowed out from what would have normally been his duties as Nick's best mammal, Clawhauser had taken the reins with aplomb, but Nick could admit he was not an easy person for whom to plan such a shindig.
The generic trip to a strip club? Nah; not Nick's style. Bar crawl? Maybe, but the fox had requested the lack of a splitting headache during the ensuing day's rehearsal dinner. Fancy meal? Eh, pass. He would rather order far too many sandwiches at Bugburga than drop half a paycheck on everyone's tiny-portioned hunks of protein – and that went for anyone in the group who might pay.
So he allowed the cheetah, a no-brainer addition to his group of groomsmammals at first since the pair had grown to become good friends during Nick's time at the ZPD's first precinct, to helm the day's activities, as long as he avoided the same old, same old.
He might have been a bit doubtful of a three-hour spa trip at first, but as his skin and fur acclimated further to the simmering heat of the hot tub, he realized it was about as relaxing an afternoon as he could have ever anticipated, despite his general aversion to water submersion.
"Benji, buddy," Nick spoke after a few silent beats, "this is the life."
The cheetah grinned, taking a drink of something out of a glass he seemed to have concocted while Nick watched Finnick and Gideon bicker; Nick was pretty sure glass bottles of alcohol had been outlawed by the place's posted rules in private areas in favor of aluminum, but he did not put it past Clawhauser to have snuck a little something in anyway. That or it had come from one of those tiny travel-sized plastic bottles he and Judy had been finding lately concealed in pulled-over motorists' drink holders. "I felt like you could use a way to unwind," he said. "You've been tired, Nick. I've noticed at work lately."
"Yeah, well, try planning a wedding in the span of six months in a city that still doesn't get a whole lot of mixed-species couples and check in with me on your mental state afterward," grumbled Nick.
"You should come here more often! Think both of us get a discount on our memberships for a few months if you say I recommended you..."
"I'll consider it, Ben." Which was true; he ended up considering it for about two seconds afterward. Hard pass.
Finnick and Gideon's separate conversation appeared to have ended; Nick whirled around his head toward the fennec fox. "Hm?"
"Ol' Faithful over here don't believe me when I said you had another girl once – an actual fox. Set him straight."
"I-I didn't quite say that," Gideon started with a stammer, shaking his head. "I said you never mentioned it, that's all. And I was surprised."
Nick nodded. "Ah, because of the whole foxes-mate-for-life thing, I'm guessing."
"Well, sure. I ain't never met a red fox who didn't."
"Clearly you never met my father."
"Naw. He gonna be at the wedding?"
"Yes, Gideon, my father is going to be at his only son's wedding. And as for the mating thing, well, Finn's right – there was someone else."
"Quel scandale," hummed Clawhauser, suddenly quite interested in their conversation.
"Oh, hush. So I dated around a bit in my 20s. So what?" Nick said with a quick eye roll.
Finnick soundly cleared his throat. "Everyone does that, Wilde. I'm talkin' 'bout Sheena, the one you saw for a year before she dumped yo ass."
"Ahhhh, yes. Sheena, Sheena."
"I like that name," Gideon said matter-of-factly. "She gonna be at the wedding?"
"No, Gideon, my jilted ex-lover is not going to be at my wedding."
"You were the jilted one," Finnick pointed out.
"Hi, uh, we're getting off track," Clawhauser chimed in, waving his paws in front of him as though that might silence his compatriots; instead, he accidentally splashed the water in front of him, little droplets impacting Nick's snout. "Nick, why'd she dump you?"
Nick had not expected to bring up Sheena, the svelte red fox he had met in college and dated a few years later in his mid-20s when the pair reconnected, at his bachelor party prior to a wedding to someone who was very much not her. In fact, he barely thought about the blue-eyed vixen anymore, considered the extended family of hers he had met a half dozen times out on Outback Island, ruminated on her career path following her enrollment in law school to become one of Zootopia's hotshot lawyers for foxkind and other similar predators – the decision that eventually broke them apart when she, a mammal with what seemed to be a future, realized her beau seemed to have little interest in matching her tit-for-tat, especially when his prospects did not appear to reach above small-time hustles and failed business ideas.
"Eh, we grew apart," Nick lied.
He resolved to stalk her Furbook page later, see how she was doing. OK, after the wedding, at least. Maybe he might accidentally tag her in a photo from the ceremony and then delete it after a few minutes, just so she would get the notification and be forced to see how well he was doing with his life.
On second thought, that was a little crazy.
"C'moooooon, give me some deets, man." Clawhauser was persistent; he had to give him that.
"They were livin' with each other." Finnick was out of the hot tub now, rummaging in the cooler again. "You don't see a lot of foxes who go from stayin' in the same room to not, I'll tell ya that."
"Differences of ambition," Nick conceded with a shrug.
"Differences of ambition," repeated Finnick, now armed with two cans of Big Buck.
Clawhauser, sensing he was not going to get much more out of Finnick or Nick, shook his head and smiled, his gaze finding Nick again. "Well, guess that isn't something you have to worry about with Judy, huh?"
"You kidding? That's where I get my ambition."
"And you're happy, right?" Nick was faced toward Clawhauser at this point, but he could hear Finnick, who had asked the question, walking the perimeter of the spa.
"Happier than I've been."
"Then that's all that matters. Now, since the other guy ain't showin', excuse me while I pour botha these beers down Gideon's throat."
Nick and Clawhauser could only laugh as the fennec fox climbed onto the larger fox's back and attempted to pry open his snout and force feed him alcohol. Fleetingly Nick thought that maybe he should help Gideon out, and he could tell the cheetah beside him was having similar thoughts, but that small nagging voice in the back of their heads was erased once they heard the door to their private locker room open behind them.
Clawhauser spun around, and his expression was immediately gleeful. "Chief! You made it!"
"Hey, boss," Nick added. "Nice suit. Clearance sale at Furever 21?"
Chief Bogo, not one of Nick's groomsmammals but a last-minute invite to the bachelor party because Nick thought it would be both kind of funny to see him hanging with such a crew and likely that he would pay for dinner later, straightened to his full height after ducking under the doorframe. He held a towel in one hoof, the fabric listing in mid-air against his left side against a swimsuit pattern that would not have looked out of place amid Nick's extensive Pawaiian shirt collection.
"Well," boomed the buffalo, looking over the sight of the four mammals before him, two of whom had barely registered his presence and appeared to be struggling to either shotgun cans of so-so beer or pour them on each other, "this should be good."