The Runt: An Unexpected Guest
Written by [Nekko fox]
Clouds moved in as the day progressed and miniscule flakes began falling gently. Tod heard a collective groan from downstairs when Shade made the same observation that he had moments ago.
"Hey, guys, it's snowing again!"
"You can keep that shit to yourself next time; I prefer living in blissful ignorance."
It was Mark who made that comment, causing the others downstairs to laugh. Tod smiled to himself as he watched the snow fall. Amy sat beside him, watching the snow silently, although Tod could feel her impatience. He had told her what he had done, and she was happy to show her approval. She also wanted to see what he could do, but Tod just smiled at her. He was feeling lightheaded and his bottom was sore, so continuing the new game he'd taken a shining to seemed less appealing than it had before.
"Amy? Could I maybe show you later? My butt kind of hurts right now..."
"Sure Tod, I didn't mean to pressure you...It's just that seeing a boy play with himself is kind of hot."
Tod blushed as he pictured Amy watching him push the toy in and out of himself, his paw stroking his shaft. He shivered gently as his imagination moved Amy closer, her hot moth drawing closer to his dripping shaft, her tongue moving up across his...
Tod coughed and looked away, feeling his blood heat. He was tired, and his bottom was sore, but his body seemed more than willing to rise to the occasion. The pup stifled the lascivious thoughts that teased his psyche, and scooted off of the bed. Amy stood up and lazily pushed the pile of Tod's clothes closer towards him, a grin lifting the corners of her muzzle.
"Well, you might want to get dressed Mr. Explorer. Dad's downstairs and he wants everyone to put on their costumes so he can take a picture with all of us in it."
"A picture...with me?"
Tod stood a little straighter, his ears perking. Against his will, his mind flashed to his past, his father's open palm descending onto his cheek. Tod struggled to sit up in his memory, heard himself choke back a sob, and asking his father what he was doing. Tod's real father ignored his embarrassing son and began pulling open family albums, ripping out pictures, grabbing framed photographs of the family that included Tod and throwing crumpled handfuls of the pictures into the lit fireplace.
Tod blinked away tears, and suddenly he was in back in his room, Amy
shaking him, her brow furrowed with worry.
"Tod? Tod! Tod, what's wrong?"
"I...what? N-Nothing...I was just..remembering..."
Tod let the sentence, and the sad memory, die away. He touched a paw to his cheek, and his paw came away wet with tears.
"You were remembering your old family, Tod."
It wasn't a question. He could only nod for a moment before Amy pulled him into a hug, clutching him protectively.
"I'm sorry Tod. Seems you have more skeletons in your closet than we first thought. Do you want to tell me about it, sweety?"
Tod shook his head, his ears flapping gently. He just wanted to bury his past deep and far away, the last thing he wanted to do was relive it again.
"I'm alright...i just want to forget it, but my memory keeps coming back. I'll be fine..."
"Okay. I'm going downstairs to help with dishes. Just come down when you're ready, okay?"
He managed a smile and nodded again. Amy gave him another quick hug and slipped out of the room, closing the door to give him some privacy. He hurriedly wiped his eyes, and began pulling on his clothes. He had to slow down occasionally as dizziness would wash over him, a not-so-subtle reminder that his body wasn't quite better yet.
He pulled his shirt on over his head and took a deep, cleansing breath. He put on a smile and marched out of the room and down the hall. At the top of the stairs, he could hear Shade and Eric arguing about something.
"You went as a pirate last year, you long-eared ninny!"
"Rapscallion! Knave! Besmirching my visage with your cruel verbiage! I'll have you know that I make a much better pirate than you, with the speech and decorum of an angel. If angels were pirates. Yar."
"Good lord, fine! Anything to make you stop!"
Shade gave out a triumphant cheer, and soon after came the the sound of footsteps up the hallway. The door opened a crack as Tod was putting on his sweatshirt, and a pair of long, white bunny ears poked in followed by Shade's grinning face.
"Hey kiddo! Great, glorious, and wonderful news! Everyone is changing into their costumes! I shall be a dashing privateer, and you shall be the specter of death itself! I'm sure we'll be quite a hit with the ladies."
Shade swept into the room, his arms laden with clothing in a variety of colors, as well as a plastic scythe. Shade dumped the clothes on the unmade bed, stretched with a groan and turned to Tod.
"Everyone is going to be changing in the other rooms, that way it will be kind of a surprise how we all look, and then Arthur and Liliana will be take our pictures!"
Tod pulled the black robe out from the pile of clothes, smiling at the thought of spending time with his new family, and his new friends. He started to untangle the robe so he could pull it on when he felt Shade kneel behind him. Tod blinked in surprise when he felt Shade's arms wrap around him in a gentle hug, and the bunny whispered into his ear.
"I'm sorry Tod, it wasn't fair. The other night..I got to finish, but you didn't. Dante was the one who had to take of you, and that isn't fair. I'll make it up to you later, okay?"
Tod looked around at Shade smiling gently.
"What we did was fun, but it's not fair, so I'll make it up to you. When you're rested up a bit, let me know, and I'll return the favor. Deal?"
Tod blinked for a moment, then broke into a smile, nodding. Shade held out his paw, and Tod eagerly shook it.
"Alright, now we're in business! So, hup hup! Let's get dressed, or people will think I'm taking advantage of you in here!"
They hurriedly pulled on their costumes, with Shade having to take several moments to puzzle over how to best hang the bandoleer across his chest. Tod also paused for a moment when Shade slipped his pants off, his ears turning a gentle pink as he caught a peek of Shade's shaft.
Soon, though, they were clothed, Shade the swashbuckling anti-hero of some fabled historical naval battle, and Tod, the diminutive canine reaper of souls. At least that was how Shade described the pair, but Tod saw no reason to disagree. Tod hefted the plastic scythe and settled it comfortably over his shoulder just as he'd seen in pictures, and the Shade lifted the pup into his arms and began walking them down the hallway, following the sound of talking.
At the top of the stairs, Shade called down to everyone that had gathered at the landing.
"Make way for White-Ears the Pirate and his trusty companion, the Fourth Rider of the Apocalypse!"
Dante, dressed like a hobo, clapped twice, and then pointed at the landing.
"Come on cotton-tail, the parents are waiting to take pictures."
Sheila was off to one side, adorned like an Arabian princess, with her arms around Mark, who was dressed like a London banker. Tod smiled, thinking how cute he looked with a monocle and top hat. Amy and Eric stood side by side, both dressed as a crime-fighting pair of superheroes. Liliana standing near the entrance to the hallway that led towards the kitchen, and she was dressed as a nurse, while Arthur, holding the camera, was wearing a Frankenstein's monster mask. In his other paw he held a camera tripod that he held up cheerfully and growled.
Amy snorted a laugh and shook her head.
"Dad, that is the worst Frankenstein impression I've ever heard."
"Everyone's a critic."
Shade set Tod down on the floor and made his way down the stairs. Tod paused to look through one of the windows. The sky wore slate grey, and thick snowflakes were falling gently. He shivered, thinking about how close he was to living out in that monstrous weather. He trotted down the stairs and joined the other, the scythe still held comfortably in the crook of his shoulder and amongst the others as Arthur set up the tripod and the camera.
Liliana directed everyone to stand in a particular way; Mark and Sheila to the left, Amy and Eric to the right, with Dante and Shade kneeling in front. Tod she placed in between Shade and Dante, and Dante took the opportunity to whisper into Tod's ear.
"You look adorable in that thing, Tod."
Tod smirked but stayed silent as Arthur stood triumphantly. He flicked a button on the camera and hurried around behind the group so that he and Liliana stood in the center.
"Alright everyone, when the light flashes red, say Halloween!"
There was a momentary pause followed by several clicks and a little light in the corner of the camera began blinking red. Everyone took a breath and veritably shouted "Halloween!" as the camera clicked and the flash went off. Dante and Shade cheered and gave eachother high fives and everyone began talking at once about what they should do for their next picture.
And then came a quiet knock at the door behind them.
Everyone went silent as they turned to the door.
The knock came again, gentle, as if the person knocking was afraid to offend the occupants. Arthur cleared his throat and pulled the mask off his face.
"I wonder who that could be, it's too early for trick-or-treaters to be out."
Arthur turned the lock on the knob and opened the door, and fell silent when he saw what was on the other side. Everyone peeked around him to see standing in the shelter of the porch, perfectly framed by the white snow, was a red panda. She was wearing a large brown jacket, dirty pink mittens over her paws, torn jeans, and big boots that were several sizes to large. She was gripping her tail tight against her as she stared up at Arthur with a look that could only be construed as restrained terror.
"Well hello there, what's your name?"
The girl began shaking visibly, but she didn't move or speak. Arthur knelt down in front of her, his tone turning quiet.
"Are you alright sweety? What's your name? Where are your parents?"
Her lip quivered and she said something that was barely more than a whisper.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
Tod sneaked around behind Arthur to get a better look, but she didn't seem to notice. The girl's tufted ears still had snowflakes clinging to them, and her dark eyes were moist from the tears she was holding back. Glinting in the light from the hallway, Tod saw that she was wearing a pair of earrings, two simple lotus flowers.
"Did you say your name was Puddle Wake?"
She shook her head, the tears now trickling down the white fur of her cheeks.
"Where are your parents, uh...Puddlewake?"
She wiped a sleeve across her cheeks and sniffled, shaking her head.
"C-Can I come in? I'm sorry for bothering you, it's just...it's really cold, and...and I..."
The tears began flowing more steadily as she stood there, shivering and clutching her tail as she waited for an answer. Arthur stood up and looked back to Liliana.
"Go on Arthur, let the poor thing in."
Arthur stood out of the way and held out an inviting to the red panda as she stepped into the house, looking around furtively before she stared at her booted feet. Liliana stepped around them and took the girl by the paw, steering her away from the group of costumed teens and into the kitchen. After a moments hesitation, Arthur followed after.
Everyone stood around awkwardly for a moment before whispering began.
"Where did she come from, I wonder? It's not like there are trick-or-treaters out yet..."
"Do her parents know she's out in the snow? Poor thing must have gotten lost..."
"She looked exhausted. I wonder how long she's been walking."
Tod peeked out the window, his eyes catching on a dark furrow dug through the snow, like someone was trudging along. The furrow looked to cut back and forth across the street, stopping at every other house that looked to have lights on. It finally ended at the Baron's doorstep.
"Maybe she's like me."
Tod said quietly, almost to himself. The group fell silent again at Tod's gentle words. Eric walked over to Tod and knelt beside the pup, his paw falling comfortably around Tod's waist.
"What do mean, Tod? Like...her family chased her off?"
Tod winced at hearing his past referred to like that, but he didn't say anything. He pointed at the path Puddlewake cut through the snow to various homes.
"She was just looking for a home that would let her in. See? She stopped at almost every house. I guess nobody wanted to let her in, or didn't open the door."
"Wow, that's...actually really sad."
The others began talking amongst themselves, but Tod slipped away, moving towards the kitchen. Settled on a stool was Puddlewake, her tail clutched tightly against her chest, her ears drooping as she stared at a steaming mug on the counter next to her. Every now and again, Tod heard her sniffle quietly before she would wipe away a tear. Arthur was standing on the opposite end of the counter, a phone in one paw, a worried expression on his face. Liliana was beside Puddlewake, a paw on the little red panda's shoulder. Arthur seemed frustrated and was gesturing with the phone at Puddlewake and then at the hallway in which Tod was standing.
"Liliana, we have to call the police and at least notify them."
"Arthur, we don't know where she came from. What if she was running from something terrible? They would only take her back!"
Arthur let out a groan of frustration, and Puddlewake sank lower in her chair, her head drooping.
"Arthur! Behave yourself! You're scaring Puddlewake! It's alright dear, there's nothing to be worried about."
Liliana stroked Puddlewake's head gently and the girl calmed down, at least somewhat. Arthur rolled his eyes and then spoke directly to Puddlewake, but his tone was gentle.
"Puddlewake, you need to talk to us, alright? Where did you come from? Where are your parents? We need to know more, sweetheart, otherwise it will be harder to help."
Puddlewake clung more tightly to her tail, her eyes drifting away from Arthur. Her voice was so quiet that it barely carried to Tod's ears.
"I come from down in the city. My parents are dead."
Arthur stiffened visibly. He set the phone down and cleared his throat.
"I...I see. I'm sorry Puddlewake, I didn't know."
She shook her head and wiped away another tear. Her soft voice was muted as she pulled her tail up to her chin.
"It's okay. My mom and dad drank a lot, and when they did they would yell and hit me. Sometimes they would yell at eachother. If they drank too much, they would sleep for a really long time. Those days were nice...if I was quiet, I could do anything I wanted and they wouldn't yell at me, or hit me. Then, they drank too much and didn't wake up. They were drinking and they went outside, and they didn't come in. I think they froze outside when it snowed..."
Liliana and Arthur shared a shocked glance.
"I stayed until the food ran out. There wasn't much to begin with. I didn't call the police because I didn't want to be put in an orphanage, so I put on some of the things we had in the house and I started walking. I didn't have anywhere else to go, or any family I knew of, and most people didn't want anything to do with me. I slept in a libraries during the day and would sneak food when I could, but it's getting harder with the snow, and most people looked at me like I might bite them... You're house is the first house where somebody actually let me inside."
"Kind of like me..."
Arthur, Liliana, and Puddlewake both started and looked over at Tod who was standing quietly in the hallway. Puddlewake looked up at Liliana nervously, and then back to Tod.
"What do you mean?"
"I had mean parents...I didn't have a home, and people didn't want to be near me, and then Mom and Dad found me and...they helped me."
Tod's vision blurred with tears and he hurriedly blinked them away.
"They gave me a home, and now I have a family that loves me. But it still hurts, sometimes."
Puddlewake slid down from the stool and walked quietly over to Tod. She stopped in front of the pup, looking into his eyes, and after a moment's hesitation she leaned in and hugged him. Tentatively, Tod put his paws around her, and there she stood, shivering as she let out the occasional sniffle.
Arthur let out a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. He glanced out the kitchen window at the snow that was steadily deepening in the back yard. He shook his head and put the phone back on its cradle.
"Well, whatever we do, it's not going to happen until the snow stops...Puddlewake, you're welcome to stay with us until we figure all of this out."
Puddlewake nodded gently, her face still buried in Tod's chest, her tail now wrapped around Tod's leg.
"Tod? Why don't you go show Puddlewake to the guest room?"
Liliana asked, her eyes still wet.
Tod cleared his throat and gently extricated himself from Puddlewake's grasp and led her back out to the hallway where everyone was still chatting quietly. They quieted when Puddlewake and Tod stepped into sight and Tod felt Puddlewake step behind Tod, hiding from view. Tod realized that she must have made that a habit in her previous home; staying out of sight. It was muscle memory keyed for survival, and it made his heart ache for her. He had a similar reaction whenever his brothers Ashton and Terrance were nearby and it helped him avoid a few beatings.
"I'm taking Puddlewake upstairs to show her the guest room because mom and dad said that we can't decide anything while there is this much snow outside."
Amy and Eric exchanged a smile and a nod while Mark put his arm around Sheila's waist and pulled her close. Shade and Dante simply nodded their approval. Tod smiled at them and then took Puddlewake's paw in his own and led her upstairs. He glanced back at her and saw she was staring at him before she hurriedly went back to staring at the floor again. The pup blushed as he realized that she was rather.
And then he tripped on the top stare and fell on his face.
With a groan, Tod propped himself up on his elbows and glanced back at Puddlewake, who had her paws over her muzzle. It looked like she was trying her best to stifle a giggle. Through her paws, the red panda girl spoke barely above a whisper.
"I'm sorry! Are you okay?"
Rubbing his jaw, Tod nodded and smiled. He was in pain, but it was nice seeing her, even if she covered it with her paws.
"Yeah, I'm okay, I just tripped. It'll take more than that to keep me down!"
Smooth, thought Tod to himself. He led Puddlewake to the guest bedroom, pushing the door open and letting her step into the room. She walked in and looked around, her ears perking up as she surveyed her surroundings.
"If you need anything, just let us know, okay Puddlewake?"
"It's bigger than my old room..."
"What was that?"
Puddlewake turned around and looked at Tod, her eyes shimmering with tears.
"This room...it's bigger than my old room. It's nicer too. Cleaner...you have something really special here Tod."
She walked over and took Tod's paws in her own. He didn't move, unsure what to do. She held his paws tightly and buried her face in the crook of his shoulder, and he noticed the almost imperceptible shaking of her shoulders as she started to cry. He freed his paws and wrapped them around her in his arms.
"Why did they hate me, Tod? I didn't think I was bad, so why did they hate me? Why did they leave me? Why did they leave me all alone?"
Tod felt tears building at the corners of his own eyes and he looked at the ceiling, composing himself. He held her tighter and cleared his throat.
"It's not you, Puddlewake. You aren't bad. And you're not alone, not anymore. And no one is going to hurt you here."
She stood there, shivering gently in his arms for a long time, and Tod simply let her. After a time she pulled away, wiping her eyes and walked over to the bed.
"I-I'm sorry Tod. I didn't mean to cry on you...you don't even know me, but you let me...thank you. I...If it's alright, could I take a nap? I was walking all night and I was afraid that if I stopped, that I'd..."
"It's okay Puddlewake, I'll go let my mom and dad know. The bathroom is the next door on the right, and if you're hungry, let us know, okay?"
Puddlewake nodded and smiled at Tod as she wiped away the remaining tears. Tod smiled back, his ears heating as he blushed. He stepped out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him and let out a long sigh. He made his way downstairs and found everyone milling around in the kitchen. Arthur was speaking quietly to Liliana by the entrance of the kitchen, while Mark and Dante were seated at the table. Sheila was sitting in Mark's lap, while Shade, Amy and Eric were talking amongst themselves at the counter. Everyone looked to Tod as he stepped into the kitchen.
"Puddlewake asked if she could take a nap, and I told her if she was hungry to come down. Is that okay mom?"
Liliana smiled and scooped the puppy into her arms and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"You did wonderfully, Tod."
"The picture of a gentleman. "
Arthur gave Tod a pat on the back and Tod's tail began wagging. He looked around at everyone in the comfortable kitchen.
"So, what do we do now?"
Liliana gave him another kiss and hugged Tod before setting him down. Arthur stretched and shrugged.
"Well, it's obvious. We make room for one more. On Halloween, everyone should have a costume, even an unexpected guest."