Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 93,823,843 Issue: 183 | 26th day of Running, Y7
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Needed Beginnings: Rorro and Toragi - Part Three


by tdyans

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The cold night sky cast Neopia Central into shades of gray, broken intermittently by the dull yellows thrown out by the street lamps that guarded each corner. Rorro made his way through the quiet streets, grateful for the solitude. He shuffled quickly down the sidewalk, clutching the yellow paint brush tightly to his chest, past the darkened windows of the auction house and the imposing steel of the bank. He cut across the damp grass, and walked past the Money Tree. The stillness here, where there was such a flurry of activity during the day, seemed so alien. But this foreign emptiness felt somehow comforting to the Kacheek.

     He crested a small hill, and then he was looking down at a large pool of water. It was still, dark and quiet now, but he could instantly picture what it was like when the sun was up-- a constant motion of bright colors and the ever-present sound of joyous pets and owners. He knew it well. He and Angela had spent enough time staring longingly at those scenes, making plans together to be a part of it someday.

     Rorro shook his head with a growl, clearing the bright colors and laughter from his mind, and he was back in the dark and the quiet and desperate to stay there. He didn't want to think about happiness that would never be.

     Yet a light tinkling of laughter lingered in his ears. He frowned, and then realized that it was not only his imagination as the sound of splashing water reached him as well. Looking out across the water, he could just see the lone pair at the far end of the pool-- stragglers, or perhaps they had purposely come late to miss the crowds. Rorro glared. Squinting, he could just make out the form of a Gelert splashing noisily onto the bank and shaking himself dry, his new shadowed coat nearly blending into the night. The human with him was a girl who giggled and hugged him, wet fur and all, as he leapt at her with a playful yip.

     Rorro turned around, sliding down a few feet and lying back against the slope of the hill. He stared up at the stars and tried to believe that those two had just been apparitions from his imagination, too. He couldn't bear any more.

      He got up when he heard them finally retreating into the distance. His body felt stiff and heavy as he hauled himself back up to the hilltop and looked out over the Rainbow Pool, making sure that he was truly alone at last. Then he made his way down slowly to the bank.

     He lifted his paw to step into the water, but then hesitated and pulled it back. Instead, he leaned over to catch a glimpse of his mutated face in the still pool-- only to flinch away at once. It was only the second time that he had seen his reflection since the change, and it still didn't look like him.

      He looked down at the paint brush that he held tightly in his paws. Then, without allowing himself another moment's hesitation, he hopped down into the cool water and dipped the yellow bristles of the brush into it as well. The yellow paint spread out slowly across the surface of the water and then seemed to coalesce and pull back inward toward its intended conquest-- Rorro. The Kacheek stood perfectly still, watching in fascination as the color seeped up his body, erasing the sickly gray that had coated his fur all these weeks. How many times had he wondered what it felt like to be painted? And now he knew.

      As quickly as it had started, Rorro realized, as if he were coming out of a dream, that the process was over. The last traces of the magical paint dissipated in the ripples of the water around him, and suddenly he was simply a yellow Kacheek standing waist-deep, alone, in a pool of water. He pulled himself up onto the bank and shook dry as best he could, bringing a paw up to feel his face as he did so. The paint brush had not changed his fur color alone. The jutting fangs, hollow eyes and twisted, throbbing head were gone as well. He was normal again. And yet….

      He turned back toward the Rainbow Pool and sat down on the bank, looking down at his reflection once again. It was so different than it had been only moments before, but somehow he felt so much the same.

      It was then that he finally heard the pawsteps and glanced over to see Toragi walk up and seat herself beside him. He sighed and turned his gaze back toward the water. If it had been anyone else-- Cap or Allegra with their overbearing kindness, Brenner with his innocent enthusiasm, Silviana with her cheeky joking or Feruli with his forced friendliness-- he would have told them to leave. But Toragi was just… quiet. She, at least, had always just let him be. He realized only now how much he appreciated that.

      They sat quietly side by side for quite some time, just listening to the hooting of Whoots in the nearby trees and the gentle lapping of the water against the bank. Just when it seemed they might remain that way forever, Toragi spoke softly. "It must feel nice to be back to your old self."

      "My old self…." Rorro touched a paw to his face and stared down into the water below, searching forlornly for something in that mottled reflection that he could recognize. He was surprised to feel hot tears running slowly down his face. "I told her that I hadn't changed-- not really," he said quietly, feeling his throat constrict. "I kept trying to tell her, and show her, that I was still me on the inside, that I wasn't any different… but I was-- not because of that stupid potion," he spat in a sudden flare of anger and desperation. "But…."

      "Because of how it made her see you…" Toragi offered softly from beside him. "And because of how that made you see her."

      Rorro looked up with a mixture of surprise and relief, and the Kougra met his gaze with her silver-gray eyes. He nodded, turning back to his reflection with a sigh. "I really used to think she cared about me… but I guess she always just wanted someone more 'special.'"

      They sat in silence for a few moments after that, watching their reflections perform their melancholy dance along the surface of the water. Toragi cleared her throat, looking at the Kacheek out of the corner of her eye. "Did you know that I used to be a Cybunny?"

      Rorro's head snapped up and he stared at the Kougra in disbelief, a smile fighting at the corners of his mouth. "You-- a Cybunny? B-but you--"

      "What's the matter?" she asked in mock defensiveness. Rorro spluttered to explain, but before he could get any real words out, she continued. "Can't picture me frolicking through fields of clover and picking pansies?" she asked, accentuating her words by fluttering her eyelashes and hopping daintily-- or at least as daintily as her Kougra physique would allow-- in a small circle.

          By this time, even Rorro was forced to concede the battle to his laughter. He fell back onto the grass, clutching his sides and giggling. It felt good-- strange, but good-- this thing he hadn't done in so very long. He found himself trying to recall the last time that he had laughed… with Angela… but then quickly pushed the thought aside. Even so, the moment was gone. He sat up again, still shaking a bit with the burst of laughter that had overtaken him. Toragi was already sitting once more right where she had been before, still and silent and straight-faced so that he stared at her and almost wondered if he had imagined the whole thing. But then her silver eyes seemed to twinkle and one corner of her mouth curved upward just slightly.

     Rorro smiled back. "What happened? How did you become a Kougra?"

      Toragi turned her eyes back toward the water, as if her story was written there. "The Lab Ray…. My owner wanted me to use it-- I don't really know why, since she didn't care for fighting. I suppose it was just something everyone did as far as she was concerned. I was… so scared that first time. I tried not to show it, but I was, and I kept hoping secretly that somehow she'd realize it and wouldn't ask me to go through with it." She paused, shaking her head with a self-deprecating smile.

      "But then the ray hit me, and then…. I'd been so afraid, but when it was over, this was me." She held up one of her large paws, turning it over and looking at it. "For the first time in my life, I felt like I actually belonged in my own fur. I'd always felt like I didn't fit as a Cybunny, though I could never really put it into words until I was something different. When I became a Kougra, I was sure this was what I was meant to be all along…."

     The tone of wonder that had crept into her voice fell away, replaced by matter-of-factness. "My owner saw things differently, though. In fact, all she saw was that her rare Cybunny had turned into a common Kougra." She paused and stared off into the distance for a moment. "The same day that I really understood myself for the first time, I really understood her for the first time too."

     Her voice trailed off. There was no need to continue the story to its natural end. Silence stretched between them, as taut and delicate as the surface of the water that stretched out before them.

     Rorro kicked his paw, sending droplets flying to disturb the serene surface one by one in quick succession. "Humans," he snarled. "At least we know now. We're better off without 'em… right?" He turned to Toragi expectantly. As obvious as he thought this conclusion was, he needed her to validate it.

     The Kougra, however, did not speak or turn to meet his gaze. She continued to stare out across the water, as if searching for something there in the shadows that now filled the opposite bank.

      "Toragi?"

     She turned then finally, meeting his questioning look. She nodded her head, just once, and then turned back quietly to the water, her tail swishing behind her.

     Rorro seemed to satisfy himself with this. He looked out at the dark pool as well, swinging his feet back and forth through the shallows, feeling the water whoosh through his toes. He brought a paw to his face and wiped at the dampness on his cheeks. "You won't tell anyone about this, will you?"

     Toragi's reply was quicker this time, a low rumble of assent. "Not if you don't." A small smile flitted across her face again.

      "It's a deal then," Rorro said, pulling his feet out of the water, standing slowly and turning away from the Rainbow Pool. "Come on, let's go…."

      "Home?" the Kougra finished for him, and she too stood, and the pair began to make their way back toward the junkyard.

     Rorro hesitated for a moment. "Right." He nodded slowly, and then repeated softly, "Home…" and found it a surprisingly easy thing to say.

     ***

     The homeless pets who came together in the junkyard at the close of each long day were like a tree-- always growing, from every point, and in all different ways, but all connected to the same roots, deep down. And even the most wayward of branches cannot grow without being touched by another.

     Sometimes, in fact, these become the most closely entwined of all.

The End

 
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Other Episodes


» Needed Beginnings: Rorro and Toragi - Part One
» Needed Beginnings: Rorro and Toragi - Part Two



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