The Right Reason: Part Two
"Come on, kid! Is that really the best you can do? Put some back into it!"
Scrap rubbed his tender and bandaged paws, biting back a groan, and stared unhappily at the sand-filled Punchbag Bob that swung merrily in the breeze before him. He'd been practicing punches for an hour and was about ready to call it quits. The Gnorbu wasn't dumb enough to actually say it out loud, as Rourke would accuse him of whining. Instead, he just turned his head to look at the captain, who was sitting on a crate with his arms folded over his chest.
"All right, then. The deck needs to be scrubbed again. But don't use a mop- a sponge would be better."
Scrap sighed, but he was also smiling. It had been a week since his nasty beating, and already a change had come over the apprentice. He was still a cheeky, care-free lad, but he'd also toughened up considerably, both physically and mentally. He wasn't a muscle Skeith, but he wasn't a limp noodle, either. And in addition to his physical training, Scrap made sure to think about his secret weapon every night before he fell asleep. If Thomas were to walk up to Scrap, the kid was sure he'd win the fight. But Scrap wasn't the only one who was changing.
As Scrap walked by Rourke to fetch his bucket, the older Neopet stood and ruffled Scrap's hair (and hat) before disappearing into the cabin. It was never obviously stated, but Rourke would show his appreciation to his apprentice in little gestures or small remarks from time to time. Scrap loved these moments; it meant that maybe a little spark of friendship thrived under their teacher-student relationship after all. And, of course, that Scrap wasn't a complete goof-off, either.
It wasn't long before the captain re-emerged, buttoning his coat despite the high temperatures of Krawk Island.
"Come on, kid. We're heading into town. Maybe our luck will be different tonight, and we'll actually land a job."
Scrap was surprised.
"You mean me?"
"Of course I mean you. How many other kids do I have working for me?"
"Just the one!" Scrap replied, hurriedly putting away his supplies. A real night on the town! He couldn't believe it.
The tavern didn't turn out to be as exciting as Scrap thought it would be, but it still beat being stuck on the Primella. The Gnorbu just sat next to Rourke at a little table and listened as the Ogrin haggled prospective employers for jobs.
The Pets who came to Rourke that night didn't offer any jobs the captain thought worth taking, and before long he and Scrap were pretty much alone in their corner. Rourke drained his mug wearily and carefully set it on the table. He handed Scrap a few coins.
"Tell the landlady to send me another drink- she'll know what I want. And get yourself something, too. No borovan!" the captain called to Scrap's retreating back.
The landlady took Scrap's points with a smile and filled a mug with Achyfi soda for him before slipping into the back room for Rourke's drink. Scrap took a sip and sneezed as the fizz filled his nose. A familiar voice caused him to look up.
It was Thomas.
Scrap quickly turned his back to the Kougra and took a long swig of his soda, praying hope against hope that the bully hadn't recognized him. However, luck wasn't on Scrap's side.
Out of the corner of his eye, the Gnorbu saw Thomas pause, grin, and lean in towards his cronies. Judging by the look on the Kougra's face, he was excited, and that could only mean misery for Scrap.
The landlady returned with Rourke's drink, throwing a look of distaste at Thomas's gang. The Wocky handed the mug to Scrap and placed a fist on her ample waist, her eyes never leaving the unpleasant bunch on the other side of the counter. The kid hurried off with a quick word of thanks, desperate to become invisible again.
Scrap spent the rest of the evening trying to make himself look insignificant in the corner. Deep down, he was in turmoil. Part of him wanted to pulverize Thomas and pay him back, but another, slightly larger part wanted to avoid the Kougra forever. If Rourke noticed anything odd, he said nothing.
Sip by sip, Scrap drained his mug and thought. By the time he was down to the foamy dregs, he knew what he was going to do.
"You know, it's getting late, and I'm kinda tired," remarked the apprentice, yawning. The captain watched him out of the corner of his eye, one eyebrow raised.
"If you're so tired, no one's gonna make you stay."
"All right, then. Good night!" The Gnorbu rocketed out of the tavern faster than any tired young Neopet should.
"Good night," muttered Rourke to his half-empty mug before raising it to his lips.
What could that boy be up to now?
Scrap took his time walking back to the Primella. The docks were dark except for the weak orange light of the occasional lantern, and the only sounds he heard were the waves and his own footsteps. He was, for the most part, alone.
"You don't learn very fast, do you?"
Scrap stopped in his tracks, but kept his eyes trained on the ground before him. A lantern shone above him almost sinisterly.
From the shadows appeared Thomas and the biggest members of his gang.
Scrap's paws tightened into fists, but otherwise he didn't react. Thomas began circling the apprentice, passing so close that his body would occasionally brush Scrap's.
"You're one lucky twerp, y'know that?" Thomas asked, his voice low and dangerous. Scrap didn't answer.
The Kougra continued circling his victim, the three other bullies creeping from the shadows and forming a ring around the lantern light on the dock.
"Oh, yeah," Thomas continued. "If your old man hadn't shown up, we would've been rid of you for good."
Scrap's ear twitched slightly, but other than that, he didn't move.
"That just proves something, little punk: you can't stand up for yourself. Instead, you hide behind that mad old Captain, never get your hands dirty. He's almost as bad as you, y'know."
Scrap lifted his head with a snap, a proud gleam in his eye. Thomas's step faltered ever so slightly.
"You know something, Thomas? That says a lot. Maybe you're jealous. Jealous that I have someone at my back when I need him. That I have a home, and something to do with my life."
Something flickered in Thomas's eyes, but just for a moment. He gestured to the overgrown Skeith behind him.
"I've got them at my back, shrimp."
Scrap held the bully's gaze.
"Were they there when Rourke showed up last time?"
An uneasy silence fell over the Pets. Thomas glared down at his would-be victim. He said nothing, but that told Scrap all he wanted to know. The ship's apprentice smiled grimly.
"But Rourke doesn't need to fight my fights for me. I'll handle you myself, because you're nothing more than a coward, a thief, and a wannabe bully who can find nothing better to do than pick on ship hands smaller than himself."
Scrap should have been terrified, but he wasn't. His head felt clear for the first time in days, and although his heart was racing, it was also full of pride. The Gnorbu knew that if Roxton had been there, the Lutari would have been grinning from whisker to whisker.
Then Thomas's temper snapped.
Almost quicker than Scrap could react, the larger Kougra struck. His fist sank into Scrap's stomach, winding the younger Pet. Scrap swayed, but didn't fall. In a flash, everything that Rourke had taught the Gnorbu over the past week came back to him.
Swinging a right hook, Scrap punched Thomas. The bully was knocked off-balance but caught himself, on paw over his rapidly swelling eye. He regarded Scrap with a mixture of shock and loathing. The irrepressible Gnorbu grinned in triumph.
The next thing he knew, Scrap was lying face up on the docks, disoriented and dizzy. Thomas and his cronies were nowhere to be seen.
Sudden footsteps made Scrap wince as a pounding headache formed around his temples. There was a familiar sigh somewhere above him, and a pair of strong, firm paws gently lifted him into a sitting position.
"What did I tell you before, about if that kid ever beat you worse than he did the first time?"
The young Neopet's mind was hazy, but he recognized the voice in an instant.
The captain shifted around so that he was kneeling beside his apprentice, but could still support him with one arm. Rourke studied the boy for a moment.
"You're going to be laid up again, you know. Which means more work for me."
"Sorry," Scrap muttered. "I'll make it up."
"'Course you will. I'll make sure of that."
Gingerly, Rourke helped Scrap stand up. The Ogrin bent to pick up the boy's hat, dusting it off thoughtfully.
"Thomas's eye... did you do that?"
In spite of himself, Scrap grinned.
"You bet. I found my 'right reason' after all."
Rourke returned the smile and placed the hat back on Scrap's head.
"I don't think he'll be bothering you anymore."
As the strange pair of friends began the slow walk back to the Primella, Scrap said in reply, "I don't think he will, too."
Scrap hung his mop back on its peg near the door of the cabin, admiring the neat job he'd completed. The new employer would be pleased, when he came to drop his goods off. Rourke had landed a job, taking some supplies to Neopia Central. The Primella left port in three days, and Scrap was beside himself with excitement.
A voice brought the Gnorbu out of his reverie. On the dock stood a green Lenny in a post master's uniform, a letter between the feathers of his hand.
"Is there a Master Scrap present?"
"That's me!" exclaimed the apprentice, bounding over to collect his letter. The post master smiled at him and left. For a long moment, Scrap just stared at the letters on the front of the envelope. Reading wasn't exactly a strong point.
It has to be from Roxton! he thought, tearing open the envelope. He read aloud slowly:
I'm on my way to Mystery Island, and I thought I'd write to say I'll be stopping by Krawk Island to see you. I should be there soon; hopefully this letter will reach you first.
I know it's wishful thinking to that you've been staying out of trouble, but I do hope you've been behaving yourself. Not too much, of course. Ol' Cappy needs to be on his toes once in a while.
I'm not going to say much else, as I should be on Krawk Island fairly soon, but I wanted to give you something to help you out. I look forward to seeing you in person!
Roxton A. Colchester III"
A photograph fell out of the envelope and landed upside down on the dock. Scrap picked it up. He was surprised for a second, but was also touched.
The Gnorbu shuffled into the cabin and, using a thumb tack, hung the photograph on the wall next to his hammock. He stood back to admire it (although it was slightly crooked.)
The photograph had been taken shortly after returning from the Lost Isle expedition. Professor Hugo Fairweather stood in the center, smiling genially at the camera. Beside him stood his daughter, Lillian, a kind look etched across her face. The Fairweathers' assistant, Werther, could hardly be seen, as the JubJub only came up to the Professor's knees. To the left, almost out of the photo entirely, stood Rourke, who looked as if he'd rather be someplace else. And there, between the Professor and Rourke, was Roxton, Scrap perched upon the Lutari's shoulders.
A paw appeared on Scrap's shoulder, and the Gnorbu smiled, pointing the picture. He already knew who it was.
"It's my 'right reason'."
Rourke smiled proudly and squeezed his student's shoulder in a fatherly way.
"And a fine one it is, too."
Thank you for reading my story! Comments, questions, and constructive critiques are always welcome!