Raindrops, thousands upon thousands of raindrops fell from the grey, murky sky above a green prairie-style wooden house, splashing into puddles on the pavement and into soft, muddy ground on the lawn. Others pitter-pattered on the window sills of the house. Inside the upper-left bedroom, five cubs all lay asleep. A nine-year old red fox bundled up in his blanket on top of a thick, green sleeping bag. On the upper berth of the bunk bed, a seven-year old gold-and-sable German Shepherd pup lay facing his bunkmate - a five year old brown raccoon with snow-white ears. On the lower berth a four-year old red fox with purple headfur and facial spots on his fur lay asleep facing the wall, and his bunkmate lay facing outwards - a six-year old black-and-tan German Shepherd with a flourescent green nose and inner-ears. His similarly-green collar and golden nametag hung far away on a hook on the bedroom door, inscribed 'Nock'.
The young German Shepherd started to writhe, wriggling and squirming in his sleep, and squeezing his eyelids unconciously.
"No... no! Help.... help me..." he whimpered, "No! Mommy! Daddy!"
He awoke with a start... sobbing and whimpering.
"Nock... what's the matter?" inquired the little fox, holding Nock's paw and looking anxiously at him.
"B...bad dream..." sighed Nock, as he reached for the baby-blue and green pacifier he had been sucking on when he fell asleep, it had fallen out and came to rest precariously on the edge of the mattress.
"Are you okay? Do you want a cuddle?"
Nock sniffled and smiled. "Thanks Aito."
"It's okay big bro, it's okay." Aito smiled, as he reached over and cuddled his older brother to comfort him.
The older fox - wrapped up in his blanket, stirred and rubbed his eyes.
"H...huh? Where..." he muttered groggily, "Oh... Jake's house."
He struggled to his feet, dragging his blanket over to the window - raindrops could still be heard pitter-pattering noisily against the window pane.
"Ugh... it's wet, wet, wet out there."
"F...Friendly..." whimpered Nock.
Then, Friendly remembered why he was at Jake's house. He remembered the fantastic birthday party the previous day, and how much fun they'd had all playing together - and also when it was time for bed and how he'd helped Nock get to sleep."
"Oh... hey, are you okay buddy boy? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Nock sniffled again and wiped his flourescent green nose with his paw, rubbing his eyes and removing the fitted-sheet. He sat on the edge of the bed, his heavily-soaked diaper crinkling and squishing. Aito crawled over to him, rubbing Nock's back and snuggling into his fur - his own diaper crinkling and squishing too.
Friendly went over to the door, fetching Nock's collar and nametag and helping him to put it on around his neck. Nock smiled, giving his nametag a tingle by shaking his neck. "Th... thanks Friendly."
Friendly smiled and rubbed Nock's headfur, "You're welcome, buddy."
Just then, the bedroom door opened with a noticeable creak.
"Morning boys." came an adult female's voice. "Oh, you're already awake... well you three are anyway. I'm not sure about our two stick-in-the-muds up there." she chuckled, pointing to Jake and Timothy laying peacefully together on the upper bunk.
"Auntie Zoey..." Nock sniffled, raising his paws for a comforting hug from his aunt.
"Aww, did you have a bad dream sweetie?"
Nock nodded and tingled his nametag again, which brought a small smile to his face. He closed his eyes and smiled more broadly as Zoey picked him up and gave him the hug he wanted. "Come on buddy, let's get you outta your diaper."
Aito squeaked and put out his arms too, begging for a similar hug and diaper change. Zoey chuckled.
"Hold on Aito! I gotta help Nock first, I can't do you both at once."
"I can help Nock." volunteered Friendly, smiling warmly as he picked up Nock's backpack.
Nock blushed noticeably, but nodded as Zoey put him down on his feet. "I'll go get the shower ready."
It wasn't long before the cubs were all ready for another day's adventure. After a fantastic breakfast of fried eggs, crispy bacon and baked beans, the boys pondered what to do with themselves.
"I wish we could go ride our bikes." pouted Timothy.
"Maybe we can. It's stopped raining outside, looks like the sun is trying to come out." answered Friendly, standing at the living room window.
"We can play my new video game in the meantime!" suggested Jake, fetching the game he had gotten from Friendly barely a week ago.
"Yeah, okay!" Nock chuckled, "I'm sure to beat you at it!"
Jake frowned at his cousin, but agreed to let him play with him.
For a while all seemed to be going well. Jake and Nock were competitively playing the video game. Timothy and Aito were on the sofa by the window watching the cars, trucks and buses going by. Friendly joined them, momentarily glancing at Aito's thick diaper and Timothy's red pull-ups before helping the raccoon by pulling his shorts up and tying the laces around his waist. Then, Friendly went and sat between Nock and Jake on the floor, spectating their game.
"Hey, nice one Jake!" commented Friendly.
Nock groaned and put more energy into his gameplay. Friendly glanced at the blue pull-up peeking between his shirt and shorts before offering him some encouragement. Then... all hell broke loose.
"Friendly, you're supposed to be MY friend!" barked Jake, frowning at Nock and yelling at him; "Stop usurping my friends!"
Friendly was taken aback by Jake's outburst and sensed that there was more animosity between the two cousin German Shepherd pups than had previously been let on. He thought about what to say, but he just couldn't find the words.
Nock frowned back at his slightly-older cousin, but turned away as a single tear fell down his cheek from one of his flourescent green eyes, sobbing once or twice as he sat alone on the sofa opposite to the TV.
"I don't want him to play with us. I always end up in some sort of trouble." groaned Jake. "...and you're spending more time with him than with me, Friendly."
"Jake... I can't imagine what sort of experience you have had before with your cousin - but what I can't imagine even more is the torture that your cousin seems to be going through. Something is upsetting him..."
Zoey - whom had witnessed the whole incident - sat down next to Jake on the other sofa and put her arm around him, letting him snuggle into her. "Jake... Nock needs a considerable amount of help from me... and from Friendly. There's something I should have told you a long time ago. I've told you that Nock was adopted by his Aunt Allison... or Aunt Mouldy as we nickname her." Zoey said with a chuckle, before her voice took on a more solemn tone; "...anyway what I didn't tell you is why Nock was adopted. Nock's mom was my partner, my best friend, and she was the finest officer I had ever had the pleasure of being with. I didn't tell you this because you were so young - but Nock's mom isn't here anymore. Do you remember that time several years ago when we all planted flowers at the cemetery?"
Jake gasped as he put the sum together, and suddenly felt guilty for having been so upset with Nock. "You... you mean?"
Zoey nodded sadly, wiping her eye. "Yes Jake, I do."
"Poor Nock" Jake whimpered. "But what about Nock's dad?"
Zoey paused for a moment, gently stroking Jake's thick, black headfur before continuing on...
"Do you know why Nock is so attached to his collar and nametag?"
Jake shook his head, it had never occured to him before.
"It's because of his Mom and Dad. His Dad - my brother, got him that for his fourth birthday. When Nock's mom passed away, social services deemed Nock's dad to be incapable of caring for his son - they tried to take Nock away and put him in foster care. They would have done too if I hadn't stepped in. Of course they wouldn't let me adopt him, especially after they learned what me and your Dad do for a living. In the end I asked Allison - a good friend of mine, if she could help. It took time for Nock to get used to it, but that's the whole sad story." Zoey sighed. "Nock's collar and nametag give him a sense of security, of belonging. He was terrified of the thought of being taken away and abandoned."
Jake got up and slowly paced over to his cousin, who was still sitting on the sofa and staring up at the sky through the patio window. Jake gingerly sat next to him and gently put his paw on his cousin's back, looking solemnly at him.
"Nock I... I'm so sorry." Jake whimpered.
Nock looked at his slightly older cousin with a tear in his eye. He cleared his throat and wiped his eye.
"C...can I play with you and Friendly? I promise I won't get you into trouble again..."
It was a little while later that everyone decided to go for a bike ride to the park. Zoey had been called into work and Sam - Jake's dad wouldn't be home until the early evening. Friendly smiled as Aito and Timothy rode in front of him, the plastic wheels of Aito's big-wheel trike and Timothy's training wheels scraping the pavement on the sidewalk as they rode along. Nock and Jake brought up the rear - Jake astride his new, big black bike and Nock astride his smaller yellow BMX. As they passed by Timothy's house the sun came out, and the puddles began to disappear in thin wisps of steam. As they reached the dirt path through the woods the pavement had almost dried out completely. The same couldn't be said for the dirt path though. The thick foliage of the broadleaf trees had kept it mostly dry, but where the foliage was thinner there were patches of deep, slippery mud. Friendly watched as Timothy and Aito rode into the mud - oblivious to what would happen next. Nock - whom had rode in front of Friendly, watched from the other side of the mud patch where he was taking a rest. He laughed as he watched Aito and Timothy struggling. He found the situation most amusing. Aito squeaked as his big wheel trike couldn't get any grip, try as he might the wheel just spun and spun with his efforts. Timothy groaned as his bike struggled too, the training wheels doing nothing but keeping him upright as the drive wheel just spun and spun, groaning as it slipped in the mud.
Friendly watched their struggles too, leaning against a big tree. He felt sympathetic for the two youngest members of the team, but he liked watching the wheels spinning, listening to the sounds of both bikes as they slipped in the mud.
Jake stayed a safe distance behind Timothy and Aito, not wanting to get covered in mud from the spinning wheels.
"Come on Nock," Friendly called out eventually, "Let's get these two stick-in-the-muds moving again."
Nock left his bike on the ground and went to push his little brother. He giggled as Aito kept trying to get his big wheel to move, but as the wheel spun it was just digging itself into the mud.
"Come on diaperbutt, let's get you out."
Friendly chuckled too as he looked at Nock, glancing at the blue pull-ups peeking out of his beige khaki shorts before turning his attention to Timothy, his red pull-ups similarly peeking out of his orange flame swim shorts.
"Ready little buddy? Here we go!" Friendly announced, as he put one paw on the seat of Timothy's shorts and the other on the saddle of his bike, and starting to push the bike out of the mud patch and onto the solid path.
After Timothy and Aito got stuck several more times on the muddy path, they all finally arrived at the big playground on the other side of the woodland park.
"Yay! We're here at last!" squeaked Aito, brushing his long purple headfur out of his eye as he rode his big-wheel along the path. Timothy rode along just behind him, and Friendly walked his bike along behind Timothy. The fox's ears perked up, he enjoyed hearing the plastic wheels scraping along as the youngest members made haste to reach the playground. Nock and Jake rode across the grass, overtaking the younger cubs with ease and soon reaching the playground - though since neither of their bikes had mud guards they had splatters of muddy water all over the back of their shirts. Friendly chuckled at this, but Jake and Nock remained completely oblivious. They rushed over to the playground...
"Whoever can't go across that zipline is a big baby!" taunted Nock.
Jake quivered as he looked at the tall metal zipline which bridged the gap between two tall platforms, several feet high off the ground.
"No way! I'm not doing that."
"Big baby!" Nock laughed, blowing a raspberry as he went over to the aforementioned playground apparatus.
Friendly was somewhat concerned by the height of the zipline too, he didn't want to see any of his friends get hurt. He intercepted Nock at the steps of the platform, holding onto Nock's shorts as the six-year old puppy started to climb them.
"Do you think you can do it? It looks kinda high..." Friendly said, anxiously.
"Of course I can!" huffed Nock, "Please let go of my shorts."
"Well... alright." Friendly nodded, though he was still nervous.
Nock grabbed hold of the handle of the zip-line and launched himself from the platform. For a moment all seemed to be well, Nock reached the other side - but for some reason he kept holding onto the handle and ended up slowly sliding backwards, away from the platform. The puppy flailed helplessly in midair, wiggling his feet trying to get the zip-line moving the right way again, but it was no use. He was stuck in mid-air!
"Help!" yelped Nock, struggling to retain his grip on the handle.
"I got you buddy!" Friendly called, as he ran underneath Nock and reached up with one paw, pushing on the seat of Nock's shorts to get him safely over to the other side. Once Nock's feetpaws were safely on the platform he let go of the zipline, and smiled at Friendly.
"Th... thanks." Nock struggled, with a gulp.
"You're welcome." said Friendly, kneeling down and gently pulling Nock's shorts up to better conceal his pull-ups.
"Let's just go on the swings instead, huh?" Jake suggested.
"Yeah, okay! I can go much higher than you can, cous!" giggled Nock, playfully shoving Jake as he ran over to the swings.
Friendly chuckled and went over to the sandbox, where Aito and Timothy were playing with some twigs and stones, making sand forts.
Some time later, Allison came by the park to pick Nock and Aito up. She agreed to take Friendly, Jake and Timothy home too.
"Come on boys" she called out, smiling as she carried a tuckered-out Aito to the car.
"I dun' wanna go home!" pouted Nock, folding his arms across his chest.
"Nock, it's time to go home. You need your pull-ups changed."
"Moooommmm! Not in front of everyone!" cried Nock, whimpering as he struggled to catch up, his pace closely resembling a duck-like waddle.
Friendly chuckled as Nock caught up with him.
"It's okay buddy. I'm sure we won't leave without you." he commented. "Come on, let's get your bike in the back of the car."
"My bike!" cried Nock, "I forgot!"
"Hey, you go get in the car with Jake and Timothy. I'll get the bike." Friendly said, patting Nock's shoulder reassuringly.
Nock smiled and continued on to the car, sitting next to Timothy.
Friendly fetched Nock's BMX and hurriedly put it into the back of the van, leaning against Timothy's red bike and closing the back hatch, before clambering into the van himself - sitting next to Aito who was sleeping peacefully in his car-seat.
"Awww. Poor little guy." Friendly chuckled.
And with that the van drove off from the parking lot - as the sun was starting to get low in the late-summer sky.
-- The End --