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Needed Beginnings: Allegra and Brenner

by tdyans


Author's Note: This follows "Needed Beginnings: Cap and Feruli" and "Needed Beginnings: Feruli and Silviana."

When Feruli arrived in the junkyard one evening with a Zafara named Silviana riding comfortably on his back, it was like the first spark of energy that sets off a chain reaction. The old Skeith Cap had accepted the new addition happily. There was more than enough space in the abandoned junkyard that they had made their home, and he couldn't help but notice the joy that the little Zafara brought to Feruli, much as the Eyrie tried to hide it.

      So, they became quite a happy little family, but it was not to remain so little for long. Week after week, more Neopets trickled into the junkyard, seeking shelter, food, and companionship. Homeless pets of all kinds were found by Feruli and Silviana or even by one of the others who had been brought in by the pair. After a while, a few pets even began to arrive on their own.

      And that was when Cap began to worry.

      Not because he had anything against the added company. He was always delighted to see a new face turn up in the junkyard, to discern a new story hidden behind haunted eyes and to find his way through that pain to the pet beneath it. He watched over the homeless pets with a fatherly eye, talking to them and telling them his now-famed stories in the shade of evening.

      No, Cap's problem was not in finding the capacity to care for so many pets; his once-broken heart seemed to expand more and more easily with each new one. His problem was, rather, how to take care of them all. As their numbers climbed, it became apparent to him that they were going to need some organization to keep their little community thriving.

      But Skeiths have never been known for their organizational skills, and Cap was no exception. He was, perhaps, the heart of the junkyard, but it needed a brain as well. And it was Feruli who suggested where he might find one when Cap brought it up to the Eyrie one evening.

      "I've seen her in the library...."


      Cap was taken aback for a moment by the memories that flooded over him as he stepped into the large Neopia Central building. He had come here with his owner, Sam, many times when he was young, before the boy could afford to buy him books of his own. The Skeith sighed and wondered not for the first time what had taken his owner away from the life they'd had together.

      Someone coughed behind him, and Cap shuffled quickly out of the doorway that he'd been blocking, allowing a girl and her yellow Gelert to pass. He swallowed back the longing pain that had risen up in his throat. He couldn't bring Sam back. But there was something that he could do now, if only he could get the help he needed.

      It took him a while to find who he was looking for. She seemed to get lost amidst the other pets crowding the rows of bookshelves. But finally he found her: a Lenny with deep blue feathers, her younger years clearly past, much like his own. She sat at a desk, tucked away from the comfortable couches where the humans and their pets tended to gather. Several tall stacks of books surrounded her like a fortress, threatening to topple at any moment. But she, her beak buried in the musty pages of yet another book, was oblivious to any danger from her protective wall of paper and binding.

      Cap coughed, feeling awkward in the face of her absorption in the words before her. "Er... excuse me?" The Lenny blinked, her concentration broken, and her eyes flickered upward to the Skeith. "Um, hello," he said. "My name's Cap."

      The Lenny gave a slight nod and turned her attention back to her book. Cap coughed again. "And... what's your name?"

      She looked up at him again, her expression a mixture of suspicion and annoyance, though Cap thought he saw just a hint of curiosity. After another silent moment, she finally spoke. "Allegra. My name is Allegra." Her voice was quiet and seemed almost a little creaky from disuse.

      Cap nodded, smiling. "It's nice to meet you, Allegra. A friend recommended that I come and talk to you."

      The Lenny lifted her head up fully from the book's pages and passed a speculative eye over the Skeith. "That young Eyrie, right?" she said. "The blue one who's always got that Zafara riding along on his back."

      "That's right-- Feruli," Cap replied, his eyes widening a bit. "How did you know?"

      The Lenny waved a wing. "I've seen him wandering around here a few times now-- always watching me when he thinks I'm not looking, but too shy to come over and say anything. He's picked up a few of your mannerisms. He must look up to you."

      Cap cleared his throat. "Well... he and I-- we were all either of us had in the world for a while."

      "Not any more?"

      "No, not quite. We've gained quite an extended family over the last few months. That's actually why Feruli thought I should come here to speak to you.... You see, he doesn't know much about books, really. But what he does know makes him think that two things must be true of someone who reads a lot of them: they must be smart and they must have a big heart-- "

      "Why would he think that-- the second one, I mean?"

      "Well, he knows that books tell stories about other creatures besides ourselves... so in order for someone to love books so much, they must really have a capacity to care about others…. That's his reasoning, anyway." He paused, but the Lenny avoided his gaze and said nothing in return. "You don't have an owner, do you?" he asked in desperation.

      She looked up at him and answered after a moment, a bit flustered, "No. No I don't."

      "I've got a whole junkyard full of pets just like you, Allegra. They-- we've been hurt, but... we've been able to find some friendship and some hope in each other. We could use your help... and I think you'd like it there." The Lenny had returned to staring down at the book before her, shaking her head slightly at Cap's words. He sighed. "Aren't you lonely here, all alone?"

      Still she did not answer and or meet the plea of his gaze. The Skeith sighed again and turned to leave. Only then did she speak, still refusing to look up. "I don't need anyone else. I have my books."

      Cap stared back at her for a moment, took a few steps toward the door, and then stopped. "But what if someone else needs you?" he said quietly, then shuffled back out of the library and into the warm summer air without another glance.


      The librarian swept her gaze across the wide room one last time before she turned off the lights and stepped through the door, locking it behind her. She was on her way home for the night. Home. Allegra was already there, or so she told herself as she stepped out from her hiding place behind one of the bookshelves. She wondered sometimes if the humans who ran the library knew that she spent not only all of her days, but all of her nights as well, among the books. But most of the time, she tried not to think of the possible unasked-for kindness, determined to believe that she had and needed no one in the world but herself.

      The only illumination now came from the shafts of moonlight that slid through the library's small, high-set windows, but Allegra wove her way easily amongst the dusty shelves. Years of practice had bred so much familiarity with these surroundings. And yet, tonight, there was a small part of her that was troubled by the niggling thought that somehow... this was not where she belonged. She sighed as if trying to exhale this feeling and be done with it, but it stayed lodged in her chest.

      She brushed her wing across the bookshelf that she had stopped in front of now, eventually settling on a familiar-feeling spine. Tucking the book under her wing, she walked away from the shelves, alighting finally on a worn brown couch. She stuck one wing deep beneath the overstuffed cushions, feeling around until she found what she was looking for. Allegra had few real possessions, and this one was infinitely valuable to her, though not for the same reason that it would have been to any other pet. She pulled out the nova, marveling as its small light reached out to embrace her in a warm glow-- offering just enough illumination to read by.

      She pulled the book up into her lap, sweeping her feathers over the worn cover with its faded title: Cybunny Down. Her long beak curved in a smile already at the thought of once again entering the world of Frodin and Meelu, of following with them on their struggles and feeling her heart soar along with theirs when they finally found a place to call home. That she knew the book by heart only heightened her joy; there was a comforting certainty in the knowledge that the events in Frodin and Meelu's world could never change unexpectedly, leaving her behind to wonder what had gone wrong.

      But Allegra's smile faded suddenly, and she shoved the book aside. She slid down to a lying position and rolled over fitfully, wanting the escape of sleep. But her thoughts persisted despite her wishes.

      How can you care so much for fictional characters... and refuse to care about anyone in the real world? a voice in her mind asked quietly but insistently.

      Allegra hesitated for a moment, but then shook her head and answered firmly, Because characters can't turn their backs on me.... All I ever have to do is open a book or even just imagine them, and there they are. They can't abandon me like everyone else.... They can't hurt me.

      The Skeith's parting words echoed back at her hollowly. "But what if someone else needs you?" Allegra sighed. Her mind drifted on to the next logical thing: Had anyone ever needed her?

      If they had, it hadn't been for long. Needed or not, she always became disposable, whenever they stopped wanting her.

      If she'd ever had a chance at being really wanted, for good and always, she knew it must have been with her first owner. It made sense to her that with every owner after that, her chances of staying forever seemed to decrease exponentially-- to them, she was a Neopet already formed, not someone who they could mold into whatever they wanted. But what had she done to lose her first owner's love?

      The truth was, she couldn't remember her first owner very well... or perhaps she chose not to. The girl's face and voice and all of the little things that made her who she was had blended with, and bled into, and ultimately become lost amongst the snatches of memories that made up all of her other owners over the years.

      The one thing that she did remember, the one recollection that stood out clear in her mind like a mountain peak against the sky, was when the girl had given her her first book. It was then that Allegra had discovered her first love, and the only one that had remained a constant in her life... if only because it was the only love that did not have to love her back.

      The Lenny rolled over and once again ran a wingtip over the cover of the book. Cybunny Down. Her first book.... Not this particular copy, of course. That had been lost to her when her owner had abandoned her. Who knew where it was now? Still with the girl perhaps... or tossed out with as little thought as she had been. She shook her head at her wandering thoughts. It didn't matter. The words inside were the same-- the same words that had brought about the realization in her then-young mind that she could escape into other worlds, other lives, to live out adventures and mysteries and anything else she could imagine, all from a simple smattering of ink upon parchment.

      Her owners, and there had been many of them, never understood this. At first, they were sometimes impressed with the way that the Lenny devoured new books, with the knowledge that she was able to spout back from the more educational ones and with the simple joy that enveloped her when she read others. But in the end, they always wanted something more, and she didn't have it to give. She was not cute or young-- not any more. She wasn't fit for battling or for real adventures. She knew and lived all of these things through her books, and she was content. But to her owners, she was just a boring Lenny. And eventually, another pet always came along who could fulfill their dreams.

      She became weary. Weary of being abandoned, of being made to feel that she wasn't good enough for anyone. Weary of the interminable hours spent in the pound, where there were no books, waiting for someone to notice her. Weary of the spark of hope, ever-dimming but never dying, that she always allowed herself to feel when someone did. Weary of the cycle starting again, over and over, ending in disappointment and resentment every time. That was why she had finally taken matters into her own wings one day. She had to get out.

      She'd seen the tell-tale signs in her latest owner's behavior: drawn-out silences, longing looks at other pets, resentful glances from cold blue eyes when he thought Allegra was too absorbed in her books to notice. She knew the time was coming-- it had happened to her all too many times before. So this time, she refused to let it. She'd simply snuck out one night and never returned. She wondered sometimes what he'd thought when he found her gone. She wondered if he really noticed at all....

      She was determined from then on not to depend on anyone else, not to seek love among others. She came to the library because she was sure it contained everything she could ever need or want-- enough books to carry her away forever from this world where no one wanted her.

      So why did she have this feeling gnawing slowly at her heart now... that it wasn't enough?


      Shafts of sunlight teased at Allegra's eyelids until finally she opened them. She didn't recall falling asleep, but she was grateful for the dreamless night that seemed to have rubbed away most of the troubling thoughts that had haunted her since her encounter with the Skeith.

      As she lay still, blinking, the brightening daylight glinted off of something hidden under a coffee table a few feet away. Allegra rolled slowly off of the couch and bent over, her age making itself felt in her creaking limbs. She scooped the shining objects up from the ground and cupped them in her wing. It was only a few Neopoints, but for the Lenny this was a lucky find, especially since her stomach chose that moment to voice its emptiness.

      An hour later, she was making her way quickly down the main street, feeling awkward as she always did outside the cocoon of the library. Suddenly, a sound to her right made her stop. She strained her ears against the cacophony of the bustling morning crowds until she finally heard it again: a low whimper coming from within a nearby alley.

      Allegra's inclination in all matters was to mind her own business and stay hidden within the safety of her books. But something was warring with that inclination this time. Hesitantly, she stepped into the shadows of the alley. It didn't take her long to locate the source of the sound: a young red Lupe who lay curled up behind an overturned garbage can, whimpering and twitching in his sleep.

      The Lenny stood staring at him for a few moments. He was thin, shaggy and dull-coated... and had only a stump left where a bushy tail once had been. She shook her head-- this was none of her concern-- and turned to leave, but one of her footfalls snapped the Lupe out of his dreams, and he sprang to his feet, staring about in confusion. His wide young eyes fell onto the Lenny before him, and he asked quickly, "My owner-- have you seen her?"

      Allegra backed up a step. "I-- no. I haven't seen anyone."

      The Lupe calmed a bit as he came fully out of his dreams, but at the same time, an air of sadness seemed to settle over his innocent features. He continued to swing his gaze slowly and forlornly around the empty alleyway. "So... she didn't send you," he said, a desperate hope clinging to the edge of his voice.

      The Lenny shook her head. "I'm sorry. I don't know your owner. I just wandered in here on my own."

      She was answered by a long, low whimper, and the Lupe averted his searching gaze, pawing at some of the spilled garbage half-heartedly.

      Allegra watched him for a few moments, feeling her heart constrict involuntarily at this hurt bewilderment in one so young. "What--?"

      "She said to stay here," he interrupted her quietly and turned his eyes back up to hers, pleading for something. "She didn't say that she'd come back. She didn't say it... but she must have meant to... right?"

      Allegra swallowed. "When was this?"

      The Lupe stared at her for a few moments, moving his mouth silently, then let out another pitiful whine, unable to answer. He didn't have to. His appearance-- the unkempt fur, the thin frame, the stump tail-- was answer enough to how long he had been out here alone. "What's your name?" she asked him gently.

      He had to think for a moment again. "B-Brenner."

      "Brenner..." Allegra said, cupping his innocent face between her wings. "Brenner, she's not coming back."

      The Lupe did not protest or try to pull away as she had expected. Instead he simply stared back at her, large tears rolling down his cheeks and onto her feathers. Allegra was surprised to realize that she too was crying. She pulled Brenner closer, wrapping her wings around his shoulders and allowing him to hang his head over her back. She had never felt this way before. Certainly she had cried for the characters in her beloved books... but for them, she had always known that there would be a happy ending to come or had at least been able to find some poetic beauty in their tragedy. But this was different. This hurt was real-- not just the work of words on a page-- and the sight of it was breaking her heart. If there was any way to give him the happy ending that would make it right....

      Allegra pulled back from their embrace and looked into Brenner's trusting face again. "You can't stay here any more, Brenner. I think I know somewhere you... we can go," she said. And he smiled through his tears.


      She might have found Cap's knowing smile annoying, but there was too much heartfelt welcome in it. The Skeith was not gloating about being right; he was celebrating what he had been right about. "You came, after all."

      Allegra nodded, looking over at Brenner, who was already playing with some of the other young pets, his innocent nature now showing through in unbridled joy instead of constant puzzlement and inexplicable hurt. "I found someone who needs you, and this place... and me, too, I guess. I-I'm not sure if that will last forever... but I'm willing to be here and make the most of it for as long as it does."

      Cap nodded back, his smile unwavering. "Come on, I've got something to show you." He turned and plodded off with the Lenny following closely by his side and the other Neopets trailing behind at their leisure. They wound their way through the high piles of discarded items until they came to the clearing in the center of the junkyard. Dotted around the edges of this encampment were shelters of all shapes and sizes, made of anything and everything that was sufficient to keep out the rain and cold. Cap nodded toward a slightly tattered tent. "I took the liberty...."

      Allegra looked at the tent, then looked back at him skeptically as she understood. "You really were quite certain that I was going to show up here, weren't you?"

      "Not entirely certain... but I've learned lately to see the best even in those whose hearts have been beaten and scarred and plated over to keep it from happening again." He nodded at the tent once more. "Well, don't you want to check it out?"

      The Lenny gave him an indulgent smile and then proceeded through the tent flaps, only to stop with a gasp. Stacked up around the sides of the tent were dozens of books. Most of them were battered, burnt, or torn-- obviously scavenged from among the piles of garbage that surrounded the encampment. But they were books just the same.

      "I thought it might make you feel more at home," Cap said as he walked into the tent himself.

      "It does," she said quietly, wondering if he realized that it wasn't the books that made that so, but the gesture.

      "What are those?" a young voice asked, and Cap and Allegra both turned to see the other pets crowded around the tent, all struggling to get a peek inside.

      "These are books," Allegra answered.

      "What are books?" another voice piped up.

      Cap responded this time. "Well, books... they're stories-- like the stories I tell you all at night-- only they're written down so that they'll last forever, unchanging."

      "The stories you tell? Like the story about us, Cap?"

      "No, my dear ones," Cap said warmly. "Your story is not written down yet. Not yet."

      "Will you tell us a book, Miss Allegra?"

      "That's read you a book," she corrected gently. "And, well, I..." A chorus of excited "please"'s erupted from the other pets, until Allegra waved her wings, laughing. "All right, all right. Just let me pick one out." She ducked back into the tent and ran her eyes and feathers quickly over the damaged spines of the books that surrounded her, until she came to one: a dirty, tattered Cybunny Down. She slid it out of the stack and stared down at it, feeling its weight in her wings, unable to keep from wondering....



      Allegra looked at the eager faces and friendly smiles of the other pets. They were all focused on her, waiting and wishing for her to open up another world-- one far away from the pain and hardship of the one they knew-- and to invite them into it along with her. A smile spread unbidden across her beak, and she turned back to the book before her.

The End

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