Where the Heart Is
In a dimly-lit corner of the pound, Mika sat, as she had for many years, counting the ceiling tiles with a vapid sort of curiosity. She was not a pet of any particularly astonishing traits – her pinkish-mauve fur was no shinier than that of any other Uni, her mane no more tangled, her eyes no more blue. In fact, she was quite an average Uni by any standards, apart from her infectious grin, which no one had seen in a very long time. It was for this reason that she had spent so long in the pound, in her own tiny cage. She had long since forgotten what it felt like to be cared for.
She, however, was the kind of Uni who expressed endless patience and love. She charmed would-be owners with fantastical tales of the other adoptees, never ceasing her relentless chatter until they were on their knees next to a cage, choosing a new pet to take home. All the while, she watched, unsmiling but approving, as others found their forever homes. She knew how to control the light that the promise of a new family could bring, but somehow, she couldn’t figure out how to get it to shine her way. So Mika sat, and waited.
One day, and quite without warning, Mika looked out of her cage to see a young woman staring back at her. There was nothing of particular consequence about her – her blonde hair was no shinier than any other owner, her green eyes no clearer – but the Uni couldn’t help but feel a little cowed.
“M-may I help you?” she stuttered quietly, stunned.
“Are you the little Uni who introduced me to Sentie?” She recognized the name immediately as the frightened little Aisha who, only a few days after being created, had been dumped unceremoniously into the pound. She then recognized the woman, a few years older now, as the young owner who had scooped up the little Aisha and taken her home. Still just as wary, she nodded a silent confirmation. Grinning wildly, she got down on her hands and knees to look the Uni in the eyes.
“Thank you,” she murmured, seriously. “Sentie is the best neopet I could ever ask for. I can’t thank you enough.” Mika felt a stab of jealousy in the pit of her stomach. Her eyes stung.
“No problem,” the Uni muttered, feeling the always-present, terrible weight of abandonment in her heart, “...I’m good at finding homes for other pets.” If only I could find one myself. The woman frowned.
“...but what about your home?” A casual glance around the room would reveal a score of other pets, just as lonely as she was, but the question hurt in a way that Mika couldn’t quite understand.
“I don’t have one.”
“Maybe the pound is your home.” A simple remark, but Mika felt the floodgates open. She started to cry, big krawkodile tears, her forehead pressed against the bars.
“That isn’t fair!” she whimpered, stamping her hoof. “I always help other pets find owners and families. That’s all I’ve ever done. I try so hard – but nobody wants me!” The woman seemed taken aback by the sudden significant display of emotion, and Mika very much wished to stop, but couldn’t seem to control the tears.
“What do you mean, ‘nobody wants you’?”
“That’s just it – no one thinks I’m special. No one loves me enough to take me home.” Her whole body was suddenly aching with a horrible nostalgia for a life she had never known. She longed for nights spent wrapped in a blanket, sitting in front of a fireplace with an owner instead of curled up in a dank cell by herself. She longed for any sign of it – just a little bit of affection, some small affirmation of love. The woman watched her, a peculiar display of sorrow on her face. She reached forward, as if to stroke the Uni’s mane, but let her hand fall back to her side. Momentarily lost in thought, she looked away. Mika berated herself inwardly – a conversation in her environment was rare, and she had burdened this almost-stranger with the problems that she should have dealt with long ago. She wiped away the last trace of tears with the back of her hoof, disappointed in herself.
“I’m sorry,” Mika whispered. She still hadn’t looked back at her. The Uni turned to press herself against the back of the cage, hanging her head in shame. A few seconds had barely passed before she heard the soft sound of the girl clearing her throat.
“...Have you ever seen the blue grundo plushie in Faerieland?” She tilted her head with curiosity, eying the young Uni. Timidly, she shook her head. “Well, he was left up in the clouds one day by whoever owned him. He’s been there for years now – even after Faerieland fell, he’s still there.” Mika’s ears flattened against her head, and she glanced away from the bars to survey her tiny, cramped cage.
“I can relate,” she mumbled sadly, under her breath. The woman smiled kindly.
“But people from all over travel to see him.” Her fur rippled with a tiny shiver as she looked back up at the stranger. Mika wished fleetingly for the same attention before forcing herself to consent to a life of counting wall tiles and dreaming of a happy ending.
“What’s so special about a dingy old plush?”
“Sometimes you just feel better seeing him. Sometimes things even appear – toys, or even neopoints. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it myself.” Her wide green eyes were bright with the excitement of the tale she was weaving for the little Uni. Mika, however, was feeling even worse than she had before the visit. She had nothing to offer anyone, no pretty paint job or mood-lifting charm. The story made her feel incredibly plain. She looked away, trying to discourage the girl. Instead, she felt a hand reach through the bars to ruffle her mane. Mika almost cried out in joy of the simplicity of it – just barely contact, the smallest trace of affection. The woman was smiling fondly, leaning close to whisper something else. “You know what his best talent is?”
“What?” Mika asked, afraid to breathe.
“He finds homes for other abandoned plushies, even though it doesn’t have a home of his own.” Mika’s eyes widened with shock – was it possible? Could she be loved for her love of others? She was practically dancing on her hooves in the discovery of it.
“But doesn’t anyone want to take him home?” she asked desperately. The smile faded.
“Oh, Fyora, yes,” the girl confirmed with a nod, “...but no one ever can.”
“Why?” And the hand was back, comforting, scratching her ears.
“Silly,” she teased. “We all just know that he has something more important to do.” The Uni’s brow furrowed, trying to understand, before she caught on.
“You mean...!” Mika began, but what had formed in her mind was too strange to put into words.
“I think you might be here for something much greater than you’d anticipated,” the woman reassured, before standing and brushing herself off. “What’s your name, little one?”
“Mika,” she said, stunned. There was a kind laugh from above her line of sight, where the green eyes were no longer visible.
“Well, Mika, I’m sure I’ll be hearing wonderful things about you soon enough. And good luck.” And just like that, the woman was gone, but the determination remained. I will make a difference! she crowed inwardly. And she knew it was true.
The very next day, Mika spoke up as the young Techo came to feed her.
“How can I help you find homes for everyone?”
He thought for a moment, scrutinizing the determined young Uni. She stared back defiantly, as if daring him to find some way to deny her.
“Don’t you want to find your own home?” he muttered gruffly. Mika looked around, noticing patches of light in the pound’s grim interior for the first time. Her heart swelled - just a little bit - with the idea of improving the lives of others who shared her former prison.
“...I think this is my home.”
The Techo savored this for a moment, before shrugging. “How good are you at greeting owners?”
Then, for the first time in years, Mika grinned.