[Author's note: I'm doing something a bit experimental this time. I'm exploring all sides of Wander so there's a bit more angst here then I'm used to writing for Wander Over Yonder, so if your not into that kind of thing, I won't mind if you skip it. I'll aim for something more light-hearted next time. Also, This is a Disney property, not mine.]
"Wander, stay." Sylvia ordered. She was doing her best to restrain Wander as he squirmed in her grasp.
They had both seen the blaze now engulfing the condominium complex in the distance. Smoke was rising from the burning conjoined buildings in thick clouds and the flames were spreading fast. She had literally thrown herself on top of him when he started going in its direction.
"But, somebody could need our help." he whined, trying to free himself.
She tightened her hold. "There is no way I am letting you run headlong into an inferno because there's an off chance that somebody might need help." She looked around at the steadily growing gathering of people evacuating their homes around them. Her voice softened, "Look, everybody's getting out okay. You can sit this one out."
He wanted to believe her, truly, but something deep inside was gnawing at him. He chewed his lower lip. What if someone couldn't get out? What if they were trapped, or lost, or injured? He let out a muffled groan as worry tightened in his chest.
"Maybe we could just mosey on over and check, just t' be sure." he offered, attempting to pull away. She held on fast.
"Or, we can stay here where it's safe." She looked towards the crowd of people and shouted, "Hey! Is everyone accounted for?"
The citizens all looked to her, then to each other. Most murmured to one another and shrugged, mostly nodding.
"Yeah." said one
"I guess so." said another.
"I know I'm here." said a third.
Sylvia looked to Wander with an encouraging smile. "See, everyone's here."
Wander frowned, unsatisfied. Nobody sounded 100% sure. He hoped these people were the type who were friendly with their neighbors and looked out for one other, but their uncertainty was not giving him that impression.
He looked back to the fire just as a roof caved in over one of the split level apartments. He drew in a deep, sharp breath. The thought of that happening with someone inside their home stabbed through the back of his mind like a knife. He pulled on a cord of his hair and raked his fingers through his cheek fur, holding in a sudden urge to scream.
Sylvia felt him tensing up in her arms. His heart was thumping wildly like a hummingbird attempting to escape his rib cage. He turned his eyes to her: partly to avoid looking anymore at the blaze, partly to stare at her pleadingly. She knew he could not relax unless he could be assured, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there was no one who needed rescuing. It pained her knowing there was no safe way to guarantee the proof needed to bring him relief. Instead she could only look into his eyes, crazed and changing colors like overloaded mood rings, as he struggled against his unyielding compulsion to rush into the danger before them.
"It's gonna be okay, buddy." she assured him "You don't always have to be the hero."
His gaze slipped away from hers, a subtle sign that he didn't agree.
A siren cut through the air and grew steadily louder. Sylvia looked up, thankful to see the flashing lights approach, then down at Wander with a smile on her lips.
"Hear that? Firefighters. We can let the professionals handle this now."
His tension eased only slightly. The large red fire truck pulled into the complex and several large firefighters poured out of it. They worked speedily to man the hoses and aim at the first house in the row along the street. Wander feverishly searched the scene for any more approaching trucks. This appeared to be the only one. He moaned with a breathy dissatisfaction.
"There must be more coming." she stated, though she sounded less than certain.
He whimpered again and she felt him become heavy. She looked down and saw he was sliding his legs out from under him. He was trying to slip from her arms but it was going against the grain of his fur causing him to become stuck in her already tight grip, leaving him in an awkward position. He could only tilt his head back and stare at her desperately.
She was at a loss for words and for the moment the only noise was the crackling of wood and the warping of metal as the structures were devoured by the flames. The firefighters stopped spraying and stood back as the house with the collapsed roof caved in entirely. The fire had the civil servants outnumbered. Even if they had managed to put out that first building, there were dozens still ablaze.
While the firefighters regrouped, there was a new sound, one that was hard to make out over the sound of rushing water and shouting workers. A cat maybe? A bird call? Maybe just the screech of metal before the next structure failure. But the ambiguity of it sent Wander into a frenzy.
His breaths heaving, he scrambles to pry Sylvia's arms off his body, working his hands over hers to wrench up her fingers and loosen her hold. He can't stand it. That HAD to be a cry for help. The idea is rooted firmly in his brain now and there's no convincing him otherwise. The firefighters hadn't heard it; they were still too busy drowning the flames. It was a person, or a beloved family pet, or some poor stray animal that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The idea of any unfortunate creature burning up without anyone doing something twists his insides to the point it he feels sick.
"I gotta go help!" He cried, almost screaming. He tried slithering up, but Sylvia had one arm firmly around his shoulder, the other tucked under his arms, impeding his movement in either direction.
"No!" She tells him firmly. But he's not hearing her. His mind only has one thought in it, and it makes him do something she is not expecting.
He brings his mouth to her hand, and bites hard.
"Ow!" She reflexively drops him and in that moment he is gone.
Rapidly flowing thoughts make him dizzy before any inhaled smoke takes over the job. Where did that call for help come from? How can he find it? He darts between buildings looking frantically for anyone in need. He calls out, but there's no answer. Instinct takes over; a very strong feeling in his gut tells him to go across the street. He runs as fast as he can.
Sylvia ran towards the burning community as soon as she saw Wander disappear into it. He was moving like lighting and she had lost track of him quickly.
"Wander!" She called. Dread was filling her every moment he wasn't by her side. "Wander!" She cried out louder.
Out of the corner of her eye she spotted something dash across the street a block away. It had to be Wander because no sane being would be running into a burning building.
She called after him but he was too far away, or perhaps too distracted by his compulsive heroics to hear her. She was about to run after him when a beefy hand clopped down on her shoulder.
"Hey lady, you shouldn't be here." One of the firefighters scolded her.
"My friend just ran into one of those houses." She frantically explained.
"Well, you can't go after them, it's too dangerous." He ordered, trying to herd her towards the fire truck. She tried to get around him, but he grabbed her by the wrist.
"You don't understand, he's somewhere in there!" She yelled.
"You just relax and leave this to the professionals." He insisted. He was still holding onto her firmly, a serious expression on his four-eyed face. It made her feel helpless and left a bitter taste in her mouth.
Each breath of ash filled air feels like he has swallowed a hot coal, but that does not stop him as he races through the apartment looking for signs of life. He calls out, "Hello! Anyone here?"
"Hello?" A feeble voice cries.
Wander's heart jumps and he turns to where the voice emerged from the smoke.
"Where are you?" he answers.
The victim coughs, "The bedroom, down the hall."
"Hold tight! I'm a-comin'!" Wander flips off his hat and it produces a fire extinguisher that comes in handy for tackling the flair ups that are between him and his destination. After clearing the path and making his way down the hall he finds the bedroom and discovers the small voice he had heard had come from a very large fellow.
The citizens of this planet were big, many as tall as Sylvia and bulky as a stack of tires, but this one takes the cake at triple the size of all the others he has met so far. This man is so large in fact he appears to be bedridden, which explains why he hasn't evacuated with his neighbors.
"Oh my…" Wander staggers momentarily, doubt nibbling on his thoughts. Banishing those negative feelings he steels his resolve and focuses on the mighty task ahead of him. "Don't you worry, sir." He announces, "I'll get you to safety."
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" The man rejoices. Wander hops onto the bed and positions himself behind the hefty man's head.
"Okay, let's get you up in one, two, three…hrrrrg!" Even with the man helping, it is an ordeal to get him up out of the bed. Wander tries lifting with his arms, pushing with his back, pulling from the front, until the combination of effort and adrenaline has the man out of the bed and on his feet. But it is instantly evident he hasn't been on his feet in a long time as he wobbles like a gelatin mold, looking ready to topple over at any moment.
Offering himself up as a crutch, Wander supports the man's weight and with whatever miraculous strength he has left, leads the way back out into the hallway.
In the time it has taken to remove the bedridden fellow from his mattress, the fire has spread with frightening speed. It rolls across the ceiling like waves in the ocean and there is an ominous creaking noise from above. He regrets leaving the fire extinguisher behind, but he knows he needs both arms free for this. He urges his rescue forward; it's slow going as he's practically dragging the corpulent co-escapee along. He can hear his heartbeat in his ears and though he's keeping low, the smoke is getting to his nose. The heat is soaking into his fur which is becoming damp with sweat, and the heavy man on his back isn't helping the matter.
The creaking gets louder and it can only mean one thing. With one last burst of energy he makes a rush for the exit, but a wooden beam comes crashing down from above. He braces himself for impact…
"Wander! You okay buddy?"
Looking up, his lost strength is renewed with joy. Sylvia is standing over them and holding up the fallen beam with no effort, like it is made of paper. She tosses it aside and hunches down beside Wander, taking the burden of the obese stranger off his shoulders.
Wander grins gleefully at her as she tells him, "Let's get out of this oven."
Once outside, the firefighters took over by escorting the overweight alien to a waiting ambulance. Wander and Sylvia sat on a curb near the fire truck thankful to have clean air in their lungs again.
Wander looked around with pleased smile. Another fire truck had shown up, the fire was getting under control and his large new friend was being reunited with his grandmother who had been out buying groceries when the fire had started.
"Well, that sure was exciting." He said, brushing the soot off his fur and hat.
His smile faltered when Sylvia gazed down at him with annoyance.
"You could have been killed." She said. He looked away from her, frowning. She wasn't sure if he was ashamed of himself or angry at her accusation as he stared at his shoes. She signed, "I just wish I knew what was going on in that head of yours. What were you thinking, running into danger like that?"
"Just… followin' my heart." He replied quietly.
"I don't think about it. I just follow what my heart tells me to do. If I don't…I feel like I'm just gonna pop." He looked up at her, his eyes large with sincerity. "I know I can get pretty squirrelly sometimes and I don't mean t' worry ya." He leaned his head against her. "But like I've said; if there's someone who's a needin' I just gotta help."
She took in his words and her expression softened. She placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Ah, I know you don't mean any harm. Next time Wander, I'll try to listen better and we'll both help." His face lit up like a spotlight and he wrapped his arms around her into a tight hug.
"Aw, thanks Syl." He smiled. "And I am awful sorry I bit'cha back there. I don't know what got into me."
"What, that little pinch?" She scoffed. "That was nothing. And it wasn't nearly as bad as the black eye I gave that fireman who tried to stop me from going after you."
Wander gasped. "Sylvia…"
"I'll apologize." She promised. He smiled approvingly. She then murmured to herself, "Though I hope he doesn't press any charges."
She arched her neck and wrapped it around him, nuzzling her snout to his cheek.
"So, you're not sore with me about listenin' to my heart instead of you?" he asked.
"Wander, ninety- nine percent of the time, when we listen to your heart, we end up doing right. It may take us down the long, winding, totally crazy scenic route, but it always leads us right."
She understood his noble motives. He had his duty to help total strangers just as she had hers to protect him. If she could keep track of him and stay by his side, they'd both accomplish their goals.
"So…" he started, "think these folks will need any help rebuildin' their homes?"