Nick cursed his stupid and rotten luck as he held on for dear life. His paw grasping a root that was jutting out of the side of the Flickr he currently found himself dangling over.
Nick knew it was a bad idea but he couldn't resist looking over his shoulder and down into the blazing inferno beneath him. He began to feel dizzy as he watched the flames dance far beneath him. The smell of smoke and burning wood filled his nostrils. One wrong move and he wouldn't stand a chance. If the fall didn't kill him than the flames surely would.
"Nick!" Came a male voice through the smoke above him. The fox looked up and his eyes widened with hope as he saw a familiar figure burst through the smoke.
Delta got on his stomach and began to reach the ledge that Nick was currently hanging from. The painted dog stretching his arm as far as he could.
"Pull me up!" Nick shouted as he tried to reach out. He missed the other canine's paws by mere inches which caused him to sway slightly in the air.
"Reach damn it!" Delta shot back as he tried to inch himself closer without risking his own balance.
On the third attempt, their paws connected and Nick felt a wave of relief as he held onto the ranger. They weren't exactly out of the burning woods yet though. Nick was still dangling over the inferno but he was confident that together he and Delta could get out of the situation.
Delta showed how strong he could be as he grasped Nick's wrist with both paws and began to lift him up effortlessly. Nick watched in astonishment as he was lifted closer to the painted dog. He was so close to salvation he couldn't help but grin. As Nick looked over at Delta though he noticed something was off. The way the ranger looked at him, the wicked smile on his face, and the evil in his eyes. Delta pulled Nick close and began to chuckle like some kind of villain.
"I killed Mufasa," The painted dog whispered, his words laced with venom.
"What?!" Nick asked as his eyes widened.
Before Nick could react Delta thrust the fox away from the ledge causing Nick to fall. The fox watched in horror as his once trusted friend laughed manically. Nick felt himself falling through the air, trying to reach out for something to grab onto. There was nothing however and the fox plummeted to his…
Nick suddenly shot up in bed and shouted in surprise. The fox put a paw on his chest and felt his heart race. It took him a minute to figure out what had happened but soon it all came together. Nick wasn't dangling over a cliff, he wasn't seconds from death, and Delta had not betrayed him and the king of the African savanna. It had all been just a very strange dream.
As Nick's breathing slowed he tasted an odd taste in his mouth which caused him to smack his lips. His throat felt dry and his eyes watered slightly. As he rubbed his face slightly he began to realize this wasn't because of his dream. No, it was because the world around him was filled with smoke.
Nick felt an uneasiness as he looked out the windows. The normally breathtaking vistas were covered in a thick smoke that was swirling all around his tower.
Nick reached for the walkie-talkies which was charging on a nightstand next to his bed. He scooped the orange device in his paws and keyed the mic.
There was silence on the frequency for a few seconds before Nick heard a voice that calmed his nerves slightly.
"Was wondering when the smell would wake you," Judy said in a somewhat distracted manner.
"Well I smelled you cooking breakfast," Nick teased as he scratched his side. His eyes going to his backpack which had been fully packed last night. The urge to get up and run out of the tower was overwhelming.
The night before a wind storm had swept through the regions and carried the flames outside of the already strained containment zone and into a new region. With two fires to battle, the firefighters evacuated to a new region in an attempt to contain both fires which they knew would eventually meat into a new massive inferno. The parks department had made the call to evacuate all mammals from several regions that would be affected. Two Forks being one of them. However, it wasn't as simple as opening the door and running out of the tower. No that was actually somewhat dangerous.
At first, Nick questioned the sanity behind staying in his tower as the forest burned around him. It took a great deal of assurance from Judy who explained that while the fire had reached Nick's region it was still spread out around him and not necessarily a threat. The parks department was arranging evacuation for him and several others but unfortunately, the wind meant that most helicopters were grounded till the wind died down. Which wasn't until the morning.
If Nick left his tower now he could become lost in the smoke and end up becoming trapped in the flames. By staying in his tower he was actually a great deal safer than he would be out in the woods. He was at a major landmark that the parks department could coordinate an evacuation ride. If he wandered too far they may not be able to find him and he would be on his own.
Even with all this knowledge, Nick found it hard to sleep. Judy had finally convinced him to because he may need the extra rest. She told him there were ways of waking the fox up in case something changed. When Nick asked how exactly he was met with a deafening sound from the walkie as Judy found a way to create feedback. Nick made a mental note to never ask her for a wake-up call.
"Might have burnt the toast," Judy teased as they returned to the conversation at paw.
"Bet it tastes delicious," Nick muttered. "Worst comes to worst that smile of yours will give me the energy I need."
"Oh gosh...well if anyone else is listening in on us I am sorry Nick made you lose your lunch on that one."
Nick and Judy had spoken about what had happened at Wapiti station. Only to a certain point though. The subject was not exactly a pleasant one for Judy. She admitted that she knew the buck who had caused all the problems. He had been the firewatcher just before Nick a few seasons back. They had grown close. Judy said in a friendly way though. He had always found ways to rub her the wrong way and she had always made her feelings clear that though they could chat, she wasn't exactly out in the woods for that kind of a good time. Of course, the excuse of being the only buck for miles came up a great deal which just creeped Judy out. One night while they were chatting he had stated what he would do if he was in her tower. Judy had subsequently ended the transmission and informed the park service that they needed to transfer the offender. When he had been informed about the transfer he became angry. When a ranger was dispatched to the region to pick him up they discovered the buck trying to cut the phone line to Judy's tower. No one wanted to imagine why the rabbit would do such a thing but it was enough for the mammals in charge to know he would be trouble. The buck was fired and trespassed from the park for vandalism. Everyone thought that was the end of it and paid no mind. This was all years ago and the incident had faded from conversation. Now though it was like a fresh wound.
Nick knew all too well how unpleasant this all was for Judy. The past finding ways to haunt those who tried to carry on was far too common. They didn't dwell on the subject for very long. Instead wanting to stay focused on the now. Especially since the now involves a fire that was currently burning out of control.
Of course, that didn't stop the two from making a joke or two about what they said over the radio. Occasionally trying to one-up one another to see if anyone listening would speak up and beg for some kind of mercy.
"What can I say, you make me say silly things," Nick chuckled before adding, "like how your eyes are so beautiful that the sunset pales in comparison."
"Ok now I'm about to lose my lunch," Judy giggled. "But that's super sweet. Say more sweet things."
"More sweet things."
"Okay, I walked into that one."
"A bunny walks into a bar, the bartender asks what can I get you? The bunny says 'something hoppy' ".
"Ok don't make me shut off my radio," Jury teased.
The sound of a helicopter overhead snapped Nick from the conversation. He looked at the ceiling and was reminded of his current situation and decided now was good as ever to get dressed. He had already laid out some clothing for his day, knowing it would be best to be ready to go at a moment's notice. As Nick finished getting dressed he took a moment to ruffle his clothing. He would have to go without the shower today thanks to the fire. He raised an arm and did a quick sniff check. He felt he could smell better but thanks to all the smoke in the air it would be hard for anyone to pick up the scent of stinky fox.
The morning seemed to drag on as Nick sat at his desk and waited for an update from Judy. He wanted to stay in constant contact with her but he also knew that as a supervisor she was also coordinating with other towers and rangers in the evacuation effort. They would chat occasionally, both of them trying to focus on something besides the disaster currently playing out around them.
Nick wasn't the only one in a sticky situation. The fire had reached Thorofare and Judy found herself cut off from evacuating on foot. She had already told Nick she would probably be taking a helicopter ride out of the region. His evacuation was yet to be seen as some of the routes out were apparently still an option.
As Nick began to worry he had been forgotten his walkie suddenly came to life.
"Nick come in," Judy said in a somewhat frantic manner. Nick felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up as he scooped up the walkie.
"Go ahead," He said quickly, the time for jokes or smart comments could come later. Now it was important to just listen.
"Pack your bags and be ready to head out," Judy began. Nick didn't wait and stood up and grabbed his bag as he prepared to head out. "You and I have a ride coming soon. Helivac will be doing routine patrols in the area. I already have some campers here that will be getting picked up. The pilots will do routine runs in the area and when you get here we will head out together."
Nick listened carefully to Judy's words. She was full of a kind of nervous confidence that told him things were getting way too real. He was however put at ease now that he had a plan. Nick worked better when he had a plan laid out in front of him. He did, however, see a problem already.
"How am I getting to your region?" He asked as he remembered the gondola used to travel across a ravine that separated their regions required a key. A key that he didn't have.
"During times like this, they leave keys in the ignition. I already confirmed with Trisha who said she used it last and it is waiting on your end with a key in the ignition. All you have to do is start it up and get that foxy tail of yours over here."
"Alright, sounds easy enough," Nick said quickly. There must have been something in his voice that betrayed the feeling of hesitation because Judy came over the radio seconds later.
"Nick you are gonna be fine," Judy said encouragingly. She then threw in something to help the fox through his nerves. "You know when you get here we may have some time alone before pick up. So if you hurry maybe we can find our own way to heat this forest up."
A dumb grin crossed Nick's lips at the thought of Judy and her soft gray fur grasped in his paws crossed his mind. The look of wanting in her bright purple eyes caused his heart rate to go up. Whatever Judy was trying to do was working as Nick no longer felt nervous, instead he felt excited. Even with the forest burning down all around him he couldn't help but smirk at the fact he would get to see Judy again soon.
"On my way!"
Nick clipped the walkie to his belt and took one last look around his tower. He had a feeling it would be the last time he ever saw it and wanted to remember it all. Though he had only taken this job on a whim and just been there for a few weeks it felt like home. The tower had been the start of something wonderful and he was sad he had to leave it all behind. The fox took in a final breath and then nodded as if to say goodbye to an old friend.
Nick locked the tower up behind him and hurried down the steps, skipping every other step as he tried to get to the bottom as quickly as he could.
The world outside Two Forks tower was completely different than it had been the day before. The forest was like an alien world. It was no longer a tranquil scene filled with rustic smells and views. No, it was a very different forest thanks to the fire. The air was thick and felt warm. Ash danced in the air and fell to the ground as the sound of cracking wood could be heard all around. Nick had been given a warning about how things might be but hadn't been nearly prepared enough for the real thing. The whole situation was overwhelming. So much so that Nick realized he was heading in the wrong direction. He took a moment to check his map and compass. Once he had corrected his oath he continued on. The one thing that kept him going was knowing that Judy was waiting for him and that soon they would be sitting in a helicopter as they rode off to safety.
As Nick scrambled over a boulder and hurried down the path that would lead him to the gondola he began to wonder what all this meant for him and Judy. He had a feeling this wasn't exactly a situation where he could be sent to another tower and she would be in the one next to him. Nick was smart and knew that if there was no forest to watch then he was pretty much out of a job. This had been a temporary gig, to begin with anyways. The job was just supposed to last through the summer and then he would be back to square one. Well maybe square two depending on what Judy intended to do.
He felt his stomach begin to knot as he wondered what Judy planned to do. Would she stay at the parks service? She had been a vital part of the service for some time and would most likely be taken care of. She could probably find a new tower to call her own. Or maybe the head office would promote her to a different position. Would she give all that up for him though?
Judy had worked so hard to get where she was and Nick didn't want to ask her to leave it all just for him. Would he have to though? Part of him felt confident that Judy would make a plan. She may have been thinking of this same subject as well and might have an answer when they got out of this situation. The question came up though, would Nick like Judy's answer?
"Nick?" Came a sweet voice from the radio which brought Nick back to reality.
"Just a few minutes from the gondola."
"Good," Judy said happily. Nick, however, noticed the hesitation in her voice.
"What's going on?"
"Trisha is here," Judy responded. "She is a little worried."
"The winds are changing in another region and may affect the helivacs. I keep telling her I will wait for the next-"
Judy's transmission was cut short as an argument began in the background.
"We have to prepare for the worse. We can coordinate another rescue for him..." Came Trisha's voice, the brown does tone was serious but also hard to hear as she wasn't directly next to Judy's walkie-talkie.
"No I am waiting for him," Judy began firmly. "He would wait for me!"
"He would do what's best for you and what's best for you is to get in that damn helicopter!"
"I am not going without him!"
While Nick felt elated to know Judy would wait for him he also felt somewhat guilty that Judy would put herself in this situation.
"Judy, please! The weather is not on our side. We need to take every chance we can to get out. Fewer paws here mean more room in the next run!"
"You go then!"
"I am not leaving you, Judy!" Trisha shouted.
"And I am not leaving him."
"Just go!" Came Trisha's muffled voice, the bunny must have been signaling for a helicopter to leave them. A few moments later Judy returned to the conversation with Nick.
"We are gonna wait here for you Nick," Judy explained firmly. "Next helicopter will be here soon so you better hurry. Oh, and Trisha is staying with me so afraid we may not have some alone time."
"I don't mind!" Came a playful Trisha in the background of Judy's transmission.
"Judy…I don't want you to be in danger because if me."
"I am not," Judy lied. Nick breathed a heavy sigh and knew there was no point talking the stubborn bunny into leaving without him. If anything this just made him pick up the pace. Every second wasted put Judy in more danger which was nothing something Nick took lightly.
It took him another 20 minutes to traverse his region. The smoke hindering his progress along with the occasional patch of fire that had spiked over the course of the day. Nick grew more and more concerned as the fires became more regular. At first, it was just one or two patches of grass or a tree. Soon though it felt like he was surrounded by some kind of hellscape.
Nick knew he was close to the gondola and he broke out into a rub as he passed a torched sign that indicated where the gondola was located.
As Nick turned the corner he felt his whole world come to a standstill.
"Judy…" Nick transmitted.
"Yeah, Nick? You at the gondola?"
"Yeah..." Nick began solemnly. "It's a no go..."
"What?! Why?" Judy asked, panic in her voice.
"The gondola is on fire…" Nick muttered as he stared at the platform that held the yellow machine. Flames flickering in front of the fox as a fire consumed the only escape from Nick's now burning region.
"No no no," Judy began, her voice shaking. "Is there way to put it out? What about another route?"
Judy's normal bubbly demeanor vanished as Nick's hope of escape did as well. He stared at the gondola as if it was a sinking life raft. A few minutes passed as Judy tried to calm herself and reassure the fox. Nick, however, saw right through it all.
"Nick!" Came a voice that wasn't Judy's over the frequency.
"Trisha?" Nick asked hesitantly.
"Alright fox so you listen up," Trisha said with a firm tone as she commandeered the situation. "My painted dog is in your region but on the clear other side of Jonsey Lake. He is evacuating a group of campers. They have room for you but you have to move now! Switch over to your ranger radio and get on his frequency. He is waiting to hear from you and if I know that stubborn dog he ain't leaving your sorry ass behind so you better move because if you get him killed I'll bring you back to life so I can kill you myself!"
Nick felt a renewed hope. He began to calculate his odds in his head and knew the chances were slim. He was clear across the region from Jonsey Lake and it was a rather large body of water so his ride could be anywhere. Anything was better than just staring at a burnt hunk of metal and waiting for the end though.
"Nick I am gonna wait here ok?" Judy's shivering voice came over the radio.
"No! You are coming with me now!" Trisha shouted in the background of the transmission.
"No, I can't leave him!" Judy began to shout. "Trisha if you love me you will let me stay for him!"
"Don't pull that card purple!" Trisha shouted. "I swear I will drag you to that chopper!"
Nick was focused as he ran through the forest but that didn't stop him from finally transmitting when Judy released the frequency.
"Judy listen to me!" Nick had to shout as he hurried through the burning woods. "Listen to Trisha! You have to get out of here now. I have a ride waiting for me at the lake. If you miss yours and we can't get you out I…." Nick searched for the words. He wanted to play it cool. Wanted to stay reserved. This, however, was for Judy. He knew what he wanted to say and decided to just say it. "I would die, Judy. And I am not saying that poetically. I would literally die. I thought my world was complete once and then lost it all. Turns out I never had it all to begin with. When I met you though I truly became whole. You changed me Judy and I don't want to be in a world without your beautiful smile. I don't know what tomorrow holds. I don't know where I will be next week. Hell, I don't know where I will be tomorrow but I want to be with you. When we get out of here I don't care where you want to go. I just want to go there with you."
"Oh, Nick…I want to go there with you too…just name the place and we are there."
"I'll figure that out later, for now, though you have a helicopter to catch and so do I!" Nick exclaimed as he darted around a fallen tree. "So how about this, we will figure this out after we get out of this. You and me against the world."
"Pinecone," Judy said, obviously through tears.
"Pinecone," Nick responded confidently.
"Get to the chopper Nick, I'll get her out of here," Trisha said over the frequency. With that, Nick clipped his walkie to his belt and grabbed the ranger radio.
It took a second but Nick switched the radio to the correct frequency and was happy to hear a friendly voice.
"Heard you could use a lift," Delta said confidently over the radio.
"Well as long as I don't have to sit in anyone's lap," Nick shot back.
"No promises," Delta said quickly. "We are heading for the lake now, west region which is the clear other side of the lake. Suggest you pick up the pace."
Nick did just that, not that he needed much convincing, to begin with. The run through the woods was like nothing Nick had ever been through. The heat, the smoke, the stitch in his side. It was like running a marathon behind a smoker as a kit with a flamethrower chased him. Nick, however, kept reminding himself of Judy. How she had agreed to stay with him. How they had a plan to stick together. How no matter what came they would race it together. All these thoughts pushed the fox as he darted through the woods.
As Nick approached the lake he felt a wave of relief only to remember he had to figure out how to get across the body of water to the shore on the other side. He decided to go to the north and hug the water's edge. There were several streaks that fed into the lake and he was confident the fire would be less fierce on that side. He was right for the most part. What few fires he saw were small and weren't the biggest threat. Of course, the universe wanted to remind him that it was kind of against him.
"Nick!" Came Deltas winded voice over the radio.
Different scenarios played out in the fox's mind as he grabbed the radio from his belt and keyed the mic.
"I'm almost there, what's up?" Nick asked nervously.
"Got a problem," Delta admitted. "Lost a camper. Some kit got separated from us in this smoke. I told them to all stay close but no one ever listens."
Nick cursed silently to himself as he knew what was coming.
"If you see a black rabbit he is with us. The kit will probably be terrified. Hopefully, she will be smart and stick close to the lake. I am having the family wait here. I'll head the other direction you are coming from. Keep an eye out and if you find her call it in!"
"You got it! When are we expecting the helicopter?" Nick asked nervously.
"Less than 10, so I suggest we work quickly."
"And here I was planning on taking my lunch break," Nick joked.
"We are working through breaks today, take it up with the union," Delta shot back.
Nick took in a deep breathe only to cough on the smoky air. They had to be quick. The thought of leaving someone behind in all this was not a thought the fox liked to dwell on. He banished the problem thoughts from his kind and focused on the task ahead. He had to look out for a black doe currently lost in all this smoke and make it to the Evac site in the next 10 minutes. Just two tasks, one at a time and he would be done in no time at all.
As Nick trudged down the shore of Jonsey lake he kept an eye out for anything that could clue him to the whereabouts of the missing doe. Like a scrap a clothing, a candy wrappers, or a small carrot plushy that was currently floating down a small stream that fed into the lake.
"Ok that is one way to find her," Nick muttered as he scooped up the plushy. There was no way this toy had ended up all the way out here on its own only to appear right now. No this was a sign, she was nearby.
Nick looked down the shore, knowing his own salvation was not far. He didn't even have to think though. Without a seconds hesitation, Nick turned and headed up the stream in search of the small kit that was currently lost out in this forest. He wouldn't leave her behind.
"Hello?" Nick shouted out.
The only answer was the wind and the crackling of flames nearby.
"Hello? Anyone out here?" Nick shouted once more.
"He…he…hello?" Came a tiny voice nearby.
"Yes!" Nick shouted with joy. "Hello? Where are you?"
"I'm lost!" Came the voice.
"Can you see the stream?" Nick shouted as he hurried down the stream, the water flowing back to the lake.
"Yes, where are you? I lost the big ranger guy, please help!"
Nick saw a figure ahead of him curled up on the ground. His nose picked her scent up and he felt his tail sway as he recognized the scent of bunny.
As he approached the small black doe came into view. The poor thing was covered in ash and looked terrified. How she had become separated from her group was beyond Nick but now wasn't the time to ask such questions. What was important was getting the small bunny out of danger. The only problem is she didn't know Nick wasn't a threat.
A pair of teal eyes widened in terror as the bunny tried to back away.
"Please don't hurt me!" she squeaked. The bunny raised a paw up in defense as Nick approached.
Nick was slightly taken aback but knew this poor kit had been through a lot and was probably terrified in general. Seeing a fox materialize out of the smoke was probably not what she had expected when it came to salvation.
"Hey now," Nick said in the kindest tone he could muster. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm here to help."
The doe had a look of apprehension on her face as she stared at the canine in front of her.
Nick held out the carrot plush towards the bunny and gave her a smile.
"I found this," Nick said softly. "Is it yours?"
The doe nodded which caused her ears to flop slightly.
"You know my girlfriend has one just like this. Bet ya she would love to meet you and show you hers," Nick tried to think of a way to best earn the Bunny's trust quickly. He had a feeling mentioning Judy was his best option.
"Your girlfriend likes carrots?"
"Well don't all bunnies?" Nick said with a playful wink.
"Your girlfriend is a bunny?"
"Yes," Nick said happily. "And don't tell her this but I think she is the cutest."
"You can't say that word!" the bunny giggled.
"I'm dating a bunny," Nick corrected. "I can use it all I want. You got it cutie?" Nick took a chance and reached out. He gently put a digit to the doe's nose and gave her a boop. To Nick's surprise and elation the doe giggled and wiggled her nose. Maybe it was his confidence, his kind words, or some unknown reason. Whatever it was Nick was glad he had made some headway.
"You're silly," The bunny said as she scooped the plush into her arms and hugged it to her body.
"No, I'm Nick," the fox said with a wink. "Who are you?"
"Jessica..." the bunny said with a smile.
A cracking noise echoed behind the doe and the two mammals turned in time to see a tree fall in the distance. The fire raging closer and closer.
The doe hugged the plush close to her body and began to whimper.
"Alright Jessica," Nick said as he reached down. "I think it's time we go."
The bunny was either very trusting or knew what was happening because she did not protest the fox picking her up and holding her in his strong arms. The bunny nuzzled into the fox and held onto him as he turned and began to jog back down the stream. He knew they were running out of time. They had easily spent 5 minutes just standing there which meant that the helicopter could easily be ready to leave by now.
Nick didn't think about all that though. He had to get this sweet bunny out of here. He didn't know why but he felt bonded with the doe. He wanted to see her to safety. He wondered if this was what firefighters felt like. The want to do right and save mammals from the brink. Or maybe it was just something at his core that made him want to protect something so sweet and innocent. This doe hadn't done anything wrong, just got herself lost was all. It was now his job to see her to safety. He chuckled to himself as he couldn't remember any of this being in the job description for Firewatcher.
He could feel the doe hold onto him slightly tighter as she coughed from the smoke-filled air. She let out a soft whimper as she held onto Nick. He ran a paw down her ears and gave her a reassuring squeeze around the waist.
"Almost there Jessica," Nick whispered.
"Nick!" Came a voice from his ranger radio. "If you can hear this I had no luck finding her. She may be on your side of the lake or has wandered off somewhere."
Nick fumbled for his radio on his belt and cursed as he felt something come undone on his belt. The fox looked down and his eyes widened in horror as he noticed his orange walkie fall into a stream. The small device was swept away from the current. Nick felt like he was losing a part of himself as he watched the object that had connected him to Judy for so long. He had an urge to run back and get it. That would mean holstering his ranger radio which he needed to use and also backtrack away from the helicopter Evac zone. He had to pull himself away as his legs carried him down the shore. He had to think of the small black doe in his arms. He would see Judy again, there would be need for that walkie. He, however, felt like he was leaving an old friend behind. He said a silent goodbye to his walkie-talkie and then clicked the radio ranger button to transmit to Delta.
"I found her!" He shouted over the roar of the inferno around them. "Heading down the shore now. Please tell me our ride is here!"
At that exact moment, Nick heard a steady humming which grew in volume as a large bulbous object began to descend from the heavens. Nick saw a sudden flash ahead of him and realized it was a flare. The red glowing orb waved back and forth for a minute. Nick noticed the outline of a helicopter begin to take shape as the humming noise became deafening. The smoke was blown away for the most part which revealed an orange and white helicopter that was currently hovering a few feet off the ground. Delta was standing beneath it as he passed a family of bunnies one at a time onto the helicopter.
"Mom!" Jessica shouted as the doe braved a glance towards the helicopter.
Both Nick and Jessica had to squint as they looked ahead. The pushback from the helicopter's blades made it so the wind was blasted in their direction.
"Nick! Thank the gods!" Delta shouted as he waved them over as he clambered onto the helicopter himself and held out his arms towards the approaching mammals.
Nick didn't wait as he dropped the ranger radio onto the ground, not even bothering with rescuing it, the parks department could bill him if they wanted.
As the fox approached he lifted the black bunny into the air. A pair of painted paws scooped her up and passed her over to her family. The dope was immediately wrapped up in a loving hug by her parents. Her mother was sobbing into the doe's cheeks as she shouted thank you over the roar of the helicopter.
It was Nick's turn to get on board. All he had to do was clamber onto the helicopter and it would all be over. As Nick reached out and grasped Delta's paw there came some shouting from the cockpit. Delta grasped Nick's paw firmly and began to pull him onboard only to have the helicopter pitch to the side. A sudden burst of wind had come across the lake and the pilots had to work quickly to correct the sudden change. The helicopter ascended rapidly and Nick felt his paws leave the ground without him pushing off. The only problem was he wasn't exactly in the helicopter just yet. The fox let out a shout as he felt himself lose balance if it hadn't been for Delta's strong grip Nick may have fallen back into the lake.
The helicopter righted itself fortunately but another gust of wind caused it to buck wildly.
"Brace!" Came a shout from the cockpit as the helicopter dove towards a group of trees on the shore's edge.
"Shoot!" Delta shouted as he tried to lift Nick into the helicopter. There was a sickening crunching noise as the helicopter came in contact with the top of the trees. Nick felt his leg brush against the branches and winced as something jutted into the side of his leg. A pain in his tail told him he had taken a hit there as well.
The helicopter managed to stay in the air and the pilots brought the vehicle high above the sea of burning trees with Nick still dangling out the side, holding onto Delta's paws for dear life.
Nick looked up at Delta who was gritting his teeth as he tried to lift the fox up.
A sudden flash in Nick's mind reminded him of his dream. He watched as Delta raised him up and admitted to the sin of murdering the king of the savanna before casting Nick into the flames below. The images, however, vanished as Nick heard Delta shouting at him.
"Nick anytime you want to help would be great!" The ranger shouted as he tried to lift the fox into the helicopter. Nick's feet dangled out in the open air for a moment before the fox found the strength to get one of his paws on the landing strut of the helicopter. As one Delta and Nick used their strength and finally managed to load the fox inside. Once Nick was aboard Delta reached over and slid the large side door shut.
"Were you daydreaming or something there Firewatcher?" Delta teased as he patted Nick on the shoulder.
"You know me, just wanted to add a little dramatic flair," Nick shot back as he sat down inside the rescue chopper.
Nick felt a pressure on his tail and looked back to survey the damage. He had to stifle a laugh as he reached over and plucked a pinecone from his fur. The small object had found a way to hook onto the fox's fur and catch a ride out of the inferno. Nick took in a deep breath as he stared at the pinecone. His gaze went out the window just in time to catch sight of his tower in the distance. Nick watched as the flames began to slowly climb up the wooden structure. He remained silent as he watched the tower become slowly consumed by the flames. He had lost his walkie and now his tower. The fox couldn't explain why but he felt a sorrow fill him. It was like watching a friend die before his eyes.
The moment of sadness was interrupted however by a soft fluff ball that hurried over to the fox and hugged him. Nick looked down to see Jessica with her eyes closed as she nuzzled her face into his chest.
"Thank you so much for finding our little girl," Came a polite voice.
Nick looked over to see a small group of bunnies staring over at him. A brown buck walked over and extended his paw.
"I don't know how I can ever repay you, sir," The buck said kindly.
Nick took the paw and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Happy to help," Nick said with a smile. He then reached down and gently stroked the small doe's ears as they were flown to safety.
The ride to the evacuation zone was somewhat uneventful but still rather stressful. The hit to the trees had caused some of the equipment to malfunction inside the helicopter. Nothing major though. The pilots reassured everyone that they would make the zone with no problems but unfortunately, their radio equipment was damaged. Delta managed to get a transmission to the parks department but the radio was so tied up that he was only able to transmit a short message before another request for help came over the frequency. The ranger felt it was best not to tie up the radio and kept his transmission simple. 10 aboard: 8 campers, 1 Ranger, and 1 Firewatcher.
When they finally cleared the smoke from the fire Nick looked out the window and was pleased to see the sea of green beneath them. When he looked up he let out a low whistle. This fire was being treated as some kind of invading army. Which explained all the firefighting aircraft dancing in the air. Nick saw tanker planes dousing whole swaths of forest with water and retardant. Helicopters popping in and out of the smoke as they evacuated mammals or provided support to the fire crews below. There were several coordination planes making large lazy circles high in the sky. Nick was impressed with how much the parks department was now throwing at this monster of a fire.
As they descended Nick noticed how the trees weren't as thick out here. The forest was sprinkled with large boulders, trails, and the occasional wooden building. He knew they were close to the edge of the forest now as more and more nature trails became visible.
"Get ready for touchdown," Came a shout from the front.
Nick watched as the trees all suddenly vanished and they were in a field littered with different emergency vehicles. He saw firefighters loaded down with gear lumbering in some directions. Medics hopped from one evacuee to another as they tried to ensure no one was in life-threatening conditions. The occasional ranger was seen giving orders or coordinating mammals. Nick couldn't help but be impressed by it all. In the distance, he saw a parking lot where several large tents had been set up. A massive fire rig was sitting at the end of the parking lot surrounded by news vehicles. Of course, the media was there and probably using the fire truck in their shots.
Nick chuckled as he instinctively reached for his walkie-talkie, wanting to tell Judy they had arrived. He winced as he remembered he had lost the walkie during the evacuation and rescue. Judy was probably out there somewhere looking for him. He suddenly became very eager and had the urge to just jump out of the helicopter and run through the crowds of mammals. He had to find Judy. All that mattered to Nick was finding his bunny.
The helicopter finally landed and the doors were slid open by a ground team waiting to help out the evacuees. Nick shot out of the helicopter like a bullet from a gun. He heard a few mammals calling out for him, asking him to come back, but he ignored them as he limped away.
"Sir we have to check that leg!" Came a female's voice.
"I got him," Came Delta who trotted up to Nick. "You really should get checked out."
"First I have to find Judy, then they can poke and prod me all they want," Nick said firmly.
The fox looked up at the ranger and realized just then the ordeal they had all been through. The ranger was covered in ash and soot. His uniform was burnt in certain spots and he looked like he had survived some kind of battle. Nick looked at his own clothing. His green long sleeved shirt was covered in a similar style to Delta's. He hadn't realized just how dirty he had gotten. Cleaning, however, would have to wait.
"Let's get to the main command center, they will probably know where folks are being sent," Delta said as he nodded towards a large green tent in the parking lot ahead of them.
The two canines trotted through all the chaos with determination. Only stopped by the occasional mammal who wanted to make sure they were ok. After brushing off all the medics they finally made it to the parking lot. Nick looked around at the crowd and felt his heart sink slightly. Finding a bunny in this was going to be nearly impossible.
There was a muffled thud next to Nick and he looked over in time to see Trisha collide with Delta so hard that the painted ranger almost lost his balance. The brown doe pressed her lips to the canines and closed her eyes as her arms wrapped around the surprised Delta. The shock wore off quickly as he wrapped his arms around the brown doe and held her close as their kiss intensified.
The brown doe pulled away from the kiss as tears rolled down her cheeks.
"I was so worried," She said with quivering lips. "Why didn't you reach out to us?!"
"Tried, radio was packed," Delta said with a weak smile.
"And you!" Trisha said as she turned to look at Nick who took a step back. "I am gonna pound you into the dirt for getting my Delta in so much trouble later. For now, you have to get to the fire truck! Like now!"
The determined look in those bright blue eyes of Trisha's said it all. She was glad they were both alright. More than glad obviously. She wanted to say more but she also knew that there was something far more important for Nick to do right then.
The fox gave her a nod and limped towards the large fire truck at the edge of the lot. He heard Trisha giving Delta a few more choice words before her shouting fell silent. Nick chanced a glance over his shoulder and saw the two rangers embraced in a passionate kiss, Trisha's ears drooping behind her head.
Nick chuckled and shook his head for a moment. When he finally looked forward he froze.
Judy was sitting on the front of the giant red fire truck. A look of sad astonishment on her beautiful face as she looked at him. Nick tried his best to stand tall but knew he must look ridiculous covered in soot and ash.
Judy slowly stood up and hopped from the fire truck. A dreamlike state coming over her as she slowly took a few steps towards Nick. The gray doe's lips began to quiver and she broke out into tears as she ran towards Nick. The fox only had time to open his arms as the doe impacted with him. Her arms wrapping around his waist as she buried her face into his shirt.
"Nick I was so worried!" Judy sobbed. "I thought I lost you! I couldn't imagine not having you here! Please don't ever do that again!"
"You bunnies," Nick chuckled. "So emotional."
He received a playful slug on the arm for the comment before Judy looked up at her fox. The tears flowing down her cheeks were ones of joy. Nick took a knee and put a paw under Judy's chin as he gazed into her eyes.
"So does this mean no end of summer cookout? I was really hoping you would be my date."
"I'll pull some strings. Think we earned a celebration…but as for a date…" Judy responded with a chuckle as she took a step forward and placed her paws on Nick's cheeks. "I already promised Trisha I would be her date," Judy said with a wink.
Nick rolled his eyes. "Fine, then I am taking Delta."
"But after the cookout…" Judy said as her ears raised up, "I am free..."
"No you're not," Nick said firmly as he looped his arms around Judy's waist and pulled her close. The doe's eyes widened in surprise. "You are mine."
With that, Nick leaned forward and pressed his lips to Judy's the two sharing a warm and tender kiss. The doe let out a soft squeak as she wrapped her arms around Nick's neck and kept the kiss going.
As their lips parted and Nick stared into Judy's eyes he couldn't help but smile. He had originally taken this job to get away from it all. A chance to just figure out where he wanted to go in life. Now though he had someone to figure all that stuff out with. As he rubbed a paw against Judy's cheek he let out a sigh.
"Oh I got you something," Nick said as he remembered his daring escape and collision with a tree.
Judy tilted her head slightly as she watched Nick reach over his shoulder and into his backpack. The fox produced the pinecone that had hitched a ride with them and presented it to Judy. The doe let out a laugh as she scooped the pinecone into her paws and held it like a small animal.
"You sure do know how to treat a girl," Judy giggled.
A week had passed since the evacuation from the June Fire. The forestry service had finally managed to contain the inferno and it didn't take long for the last of the flames to be doused. In the end, no lives had been lost but the forest had suffered quiet the blow. Of course, nature always found a way to carry on and thanks to the conservation efforts of the Parks Service rehabilitation and recovery efforts were already underway. Most parks employees were busy surveying the damage or repairing what they could.
Most park employees that is.
Some, however, found themselves on a pebble-strewn beach at one of the larger lakes near the park's entrance. Normally the shore would be littered with beachgoers who wanted to enjoy the cool and refreshing water of Lake Ram. The parks department, however, kept the lake closed so they could focus resources elsewhere. Of course, it was still open for employees.
Nick and Judy sat in a beach chair that looked out across the water. The gray doe curled up in the fox's arms as she dozed in the warm sun. Out across the water, two other mammals busied themselves with a game of king of the rock. A large boulder sat just above the water's surface. Trisha was clad in a bright blue bikini and currently found herself the owner of said rock. It didn't last however as Delta leapt from the water and wrapped his arms around the doe, bringing her crashing into the liquid with her. Seconds later their heads popped above the water as they proceeded to splash one another and laugh.
Nick chuckled at the two's antics and looked down at the small gray doe currently resting in his arms as she stirred. The bunny let out a soft moan and moved slightly as she nuzzled into Nick's fur and took a deep breath. Nick ran a paw down the bunny's ears and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. He then reached over and scooped up a bear which had been resting next to a boom box. The stereo currently playing what Trisha called her Firewatch mix.
There were songs like Burning love, ring of fire, and disco inferno. Nick had to admit, he liked Trisha's taste in humor and music.
There were other mammals from the Firewatch service spread across the beach. All of them had been eager to meet Nick. Judy apparently hadn't shut up about the fox after the evacuation. Nick couldn't believe just how at home they all made him feel. To them, they didn't see just a fox. They saw Judy's fox. Which meant a great deal to Nick.
Judy and Nick had decided to stay with the Parks Department if they would have them of course. Judy's job was mostly secured. Nick, however, was up in the air. He had sent in a new application and requested to stay with the service.
As he looked out across the beach Nick said a silent prayer, hoping he would get to stay with all the mammals that had welcomed him into their family. As he looked back down at Judy he let out a satisfied sigh.
Here he was, on a sun-soaked beach drinking a cool beer with the girl of his dreams. All thanks to a posting for a summer job. Nick took another sip of beer and then set the bottle down. He wrapped his arms around Judy and squeezed her close as he began to drift into an afternoon nap.
What a way to end a Firewatch.
Hey there Firewatchers!
Had ya going for a second didn't I?
What an amazing trip this has been. I have received so much positive feedback about this story. I am sad to see it end but also happy because I wanted to try and stay true to the game in some aspects. One such aspect is leaving you all wanting more.
I can't thank you all enough for the support I have gotten over the course of this story. I have said this once but I wanna say it again: I have the best fans!
Seriously this story is awesome because of you all and I thank you for the love and support.
I am sure a lot of you are wanting to know what is next.
Will there be a sequel? Yes!
I have plans laid out for another story in this series. However, I have a lot of other projects that need attention right now. So if ya get a chance check out my other work. Or just wait for a new story that will hopefully show up sooner rather than later.
Special thanks, time:
Red Velvet Panda- OMG! That Ranger Trisha picture you drew is still one of my favorites! Also, that pinecone picture which I am totally expecting framed and signed! :P
ZNN- Thank you for featuring me in your fanfiction section! I can't tell you how awesome it is to see my story featured on such an awesome site!
Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps- You pushed me to do great things when I was first writing this story. When I first started writing it I just saw it as my side story. Thanks to your constant nagging…I mean encouragement... It became my biggest hit! Thank you so much for believing in me.
Fox in the henhouse- You know you were gonna get mentioned so deal with the sappiness! Thank you so much dude for all the late night talks, vent sessions, and of course suggestions. You helped mold this story into the awesomeness that it is. I love working with you, chatting with you, dreaming about….ok that was weird. Anyways. Thanks for all of it dude. Can't wait to see where our adventures take us next.
Rangers (the folks I wanna thank but can't because this chapter would turn into a novel)- There are so many other folks I want to thank. You know who you are! But if I thanked you all this chapter would reach 20k in no time. Thanks for the support, kindness, and help over the course of this story.
Firewatchers and Pinecones (all of you!)- Thank you all for the reviews, follows, and favorites. It really helps me as a writer develop into something better. This has been my most trafficked story and it really makes me feel awesome seeing the outpouring of support.
Well, that about wraps it up. Hope you enjoyed the story!
Enjoy the after credit teaser.
Dear Mr. Nicholas Wilde,
We regret to inform you that your request to continue your job as a Firewatcher for the parks service must be denied at this time. We currently have no openings for that position in any region. The June Fire has destroyed several of our towers and displaced many employees who have been with our department for some time. We apologize for the inconvenience.
However, we are happy to offer you the position of Park Ranger. After hearing the testimony of your actions during the June Fire we believe you would be an important asset to our department. Your courage, quick thinking, and ability to work in dangerous situations is very commendable and something we look for in our Rangers. That is why we at the Parks Department believe you are a perfect fit for this position.
You will be receiving a call later this week from your Field Trainer Ranger Trisha Rose who eagerly volunteered to be your trainer and see you through the process.
We look forward to having you continue with our team.
Park Operations Supervisor
Bet you look really cute in uniform.