Disclaimer: I don't own An American Tail, or Rango. I'm just borrowing someone else's toys for awhile.
March of Progress
Things like death, for example, and though he had known it would come eventually, he hadn't expected it to come so soon for the old dog. The news hits him like a ton of bricks, and for a few long and numb minutes, Fievel refuses to believe it. But Wylie had been old when he met him, and that was ten years ago, and over the course of those years the sheriff's health had started to deteriorate. It started with weak knees and sore hips, and moved on to poor eyesight and a constant shortness of breath. His mind had started to go, too – but Fievel preferred not to think about that. Those days, when Wylie had seemed lost in his own town, a dead-eyed phantom passing through with little to no recollection of who he, or anyone else, was... Those were some of the worst days in Fievel's life.
"It was a long time coming, my son," his father says, a strong but gentle hand on his shoulder, and Fievel thinks it's supposed to be comforting, but it really isn't. He shrugs Papa's hand off, nods, sucks in a breath so big it hurts his chest and swallows the hard and heavy lump that's been forming in his throat.
"He's gone to a better place," his mother says somewhere off to the side, and he can't be bothered to look over. Something inside tightens and twists and in a heartbeat he feels a fleeting anger in place of the overwhelming sorrow. He's heard people say that before when someone has died, that they've gone to a better place and their suffering is over, and he used to take comfort in those thoughts, but not now. Because all he can think of is his own hurt and his own loss, and it's not fair, and as childish as it sounds and is, he just wants Wylie back.
But Wylie's not coming back, and this is just the way things are now.
"Are you going to be alright?" his sister asks, and his anger and sadness swell inside him, tangling together into something horrid and ugly. In that moment, that has to be the stupidest question he has ever heard, and that's saying something because Fievel believes, wholeheartedly, that there's no such thing as a stupid question.
But he knows Tanya's heart is in the right place, and so he catches himself and shrugs instead, waving her sympathy away. "I guess so," he tells her honestly. It hurts now, and it will hurt tomorrow and maybe even years from now, but he likes to think that, someday, it won't, and he really will be alright.
For now, though, he would really just rather be alone. Not to wallow in his grief, but to come to terms with it instead. So he excuses himself, says he needs some air and pretends not to hear Yasha asking him to stay as he leaves the house. He'll make it up to her, he promises himself, but first he needs to get his head on straight again. She's already upset, more for his loss than her own, if any at all, and he doesn't want to do or say anything that may accidentally wound her further.
Outside, Fievel's almost instantly aware of the many sad eyes on him. It was no secret in Green River just how close he and Wylie had been, and he can feel the immense weight of a whole town's condolences settling uneasily on his shoulders. For the first time in a long time, he feels out of place, unsure of himself, and wishes he could hide away somewhere until this whole thing blows over. But he knows better, that he can't, and so he doesn't, and he trudges on through town, accepting one unsure apology after another.
It doesn't take long before Tiger finds him. The cat's shadow encompasses him, and Fievel feels oddly smaller than he really is as he stands at his best friend's feet. He looks up at Tiger's face, and feels his own expression contorting. The weak smile he'd tried to put on falters, and he ends up frowning, and it's okay because Tiger understands him better than anybody else ever has.
Tiger frowns back down at him, and Fievel knows his own grief must weigh heavy in his chest. Wylie and Tiger hadn't always seen eye to eye, but Fievel knew the cat thought highly of him, that he owed some small part of who he turned out to be to the lawman. While he doubts Tiger even feels a fraction of the loss he does, he doesn't doubt that Tiger's hurting right now, too.
Fievel swallows hard, but this time the lump won't go down, and he lets out a shaking sigh before he lowers his gaze down to the small patch of sand and gravel between them. His small chest heaves and, under the brim of his hat, he blinks back undesired tears. But they come anyway, and even if he hadn't wanted Tiger to know, the way he wipes at his face with the back of his sleeve gives him away.
Thankfully, Tiger doesn't tell him it's okay, or that it will be okay, or that he's sorry. The cat simply takes him up into his paws and walks to the edge of town, and then passed it. Fievel doesn't ask where they're going because he already knows. There's a rock a few minutes out of town, one where Wylie had given him some of the best advice anybody had ever been kind enough to give him. After that one particular sunset, if he ever felt unsure of himself that's where he would go. Sometimes he would spend minutes out there, other times whole days.
An odd ache settles in his chest as Tiger sets him down on the rock, and then takes a seat beside him. His tears have dried, but his eyes are still red as he looks sidelong up at his best friend. Tiger has this small, sad smile as he stares out into the horizon, and the longer Fievel stares at it, the more at ease he begins to feel. Leave it to Tiger to know how to make the best of a bad situation.
It will take more than this to ward away the heartache, but he thinks it's a step in the right direction.
He takes a seat after a few moments and let's out a quiet sigh. "Thanks," he murmurs quietly. "I think I needed this."
"I know," Tiger says, looking down to the mouse beside him and smiling that sad smile again. "You're welcome, Fieve."
With some effort, Fievel returns the smile, and then they both look out into the desert. A silence almost settles between them, but Fievel speaks before it can.
"It's gonna be okay," he says, more to himself but if feels good to know Tiger's listening anyway. "I'm gonna be okay."