Green River is a simple little down, quiet and quaint and content with itself. There are no secrets here, no darknesses waiting to be uncovered. The people here are honest and good and everything Rango has tried so hard and ailed to be. He feels out of place, like he really doesn't belong, but he hasn't been granted the time to entertain these thoughts and the feelings that come with them. In the forty-eight hour span, he has been awake and coherent, the Mousekewitzes have kept both his mind and body busy. He has currently been tasked by Mrs. Mousekewitz to run errands in town with her son.
This is the first time he finds himself alone with his savior, and he all he really wants to do is thank him for saving his life. The words are lodged in his throat, though, and he can't seem to find a good time to hack them up. He thinks maybe the moment shouldn't matter, and he should just go ahead and say it, but then he notices they've suddenly arrived at the General Store.
Later, he tells himself as they walk in.
There's an old hamster behind the counter that whirls around at the sound of the bell above the door jingling. His gaze softens for a moment when it lands on Fievel, however it quickly hardens again once it finds him.
"Aaah," he shop owner croons, a small grin on his thin lips, "so this must be the lizard ve haf heard so much about." Like Fievel's parents, this rodent also has an accent Rango has never heard before.
Fievel grins back at him. "The one and only, Mr. Schimmel."
Mr. Schimmel hums in though as he fixes Rango with another hard stare. "You are very lucky, Mr. – "
"Oh – um – Rango," the chameleon says, and then clears his throat and adds, "and yes, I know I am."
Mr. Schimmel nods then looks at Fievel again. "So, vhat does your mama vant today, Mr. Sheriff?"
At this, Rango looks toward Fievel again, just in time to see him falter. While the mouse quickly recovers and tells Mr Schimmel that they're here for the usual, Rango takes a moment to really look him over. He doesn't find a badge, though he wonders if it's perhaps hidden in his vest or in a wallet. He also notes that, really, Fievel looks a little too young to be a Sheriff. Though, he supposes, age doesn't really matter.
"I'm not the Sheriff," Fievel says and clears his throat, shrugging with one shoulder. "Well, not really."
"It is vhat he would have wanted, you know," Mr. Schimmel says before be busies himself behind the counter, collecting some of the items Mrs. Mousekewitz frequently asks for.
Fievel doesn't say anything in response to that, but he does catch Rango's curious and confused stare. Of all things, he just smiles and shakes his head. Rango gets a feeling that he isn't telling him to forget it, but that he'll explain later. Rango won't deny that he's wondering now, but he isn't entirely sure he wants to know. This isn't ground he's necessarily willing to tread.
Mr. Schimmel rings the order up a few moments later, and Fievel and Rango go on their way. There is a silence between them that is only punctured by the crinkle of bags they carry of the crunch of the sand beneath their feet. They walk on like this for a few long moments before Fievel breaks the silence.
"So, about that Sheriff comment," he says and glances sidelong at Rango. Rango doesn't turn his head, only pivots one eye in its socket to look back at him. Fievel's never seen anybody do something like that before, and it makes him grin.
"What about it?" Rango asks, pretending as though he hadn't thought twice on it, though he knows Fievel knows the truth.
"I guess I am the Sheriff," Fievel says slowly. "For now, anyway. At least until we find someone else to fill the spot."
Rango nods, unsure of what to say to that. He knows there's more to the story than that, but he doesn't want to push.
Thankfully, he doesn't have to.
"Our old Sheriff – Wylie Burp – " he pauses here, takes a breath, then continues, " – he died about a week ago."
Rango is still at a loss for words, but he nods to show he's listening – and patiently waiting for Fievel to continue.
"It wasn't anything dramatic," Fievel chuckles in spite of himself. "He just... got old."
Rango nods again, slower this time. "There are worse ways to go," he comments, and hopes he doesn't offend.
Fievel grins agains and nods back. "Yeah. We were close, and I'm still getting used to him being gone."
"It takes time," Rango says, though he wouldn't personally know if this is true or not. He's never truly loved and lost anyone or anything. Dirt crosses his mind, but he squashes that thought quickly, preferring to think he'll get over that town sooner than later.
Fievel murmurs a quiet "yeah," and doesn't now that Rango is bluffing his empathy. "The town didn't know who else to pick to fill in until we properly elect a new Sheriff. I don't mind – I'm honored, really – but those are some big shoes to fill." There's a pause before the mouse grins crookedly at him. "And that has nothing to do with Wylie being a dog."
Rango finds himself grinning back, even chuckling. He thinks that Fievel must be very brace and very stong to be able to take on this role and smile in the face of his loss.
"A dog, huh?" he inquires. "Must be a pretty diverse community. Where I'm from – " he stops for a moment, nearly choking on his words because Dirt was never his and he has no right to recall it as such. But Fievel's looking at him so intently with those pretty blue eyes, and so Rango forces the words out. "...we, uh, we didn't have any dogs in town. Just us smaller ones. Lizards, mammals. A few birds. One amphibian."
And by the time he's finished speaking, he regrets saying anything. If Fievel asks where he's from...
But he doesn't, and Rango lets out a little sigh of relief.
Fievel just grins and nods again, smiling."You're still pretty new here, so you haven't had time to really look around or get to know everybody, but Green River's full of dogs and cats."
Rango's brows raise. "Dogs, and cats?"
Fievel nods again. "Yes, sir. The dogs don't bother with the town much one way or another because they have their humans, but most of the cats are strays and thugs. They don't cause too much trouble anymore. Wylie... He kept them in check."
Rango shifts the grocery bag in his arms and clears his throat. "Aren't you worried that... um... "
He's not sure how to ask this question, but it's already started slip-sliding through his scaly lips, so he can't stop it.
"That without Wylie around, the cats will start acting out again?" Fievel finishes for him, and Rango nods slowly.
"I probably shouldn't have asked."
"Why not? It's a fair question, and something we've all wondered about." He shrugs and gives the lizard another faint smile. "I don't worry about it too much, though. Cats are nothing I can't handle."
Rango wants to laugh but he feels like Fievel isn't really joking or bluffing. So instead, he just raises his brows again, curious of the truths behind such a bold statement. In the time it takes Fievel to respond to him, he idly thinks of the hawk. He thinks of her beak and her talons and how he was able to escape both and crush her through sheer dumb luck.
Fievel's smile stretches into a grin, something smug and proud. "It's a long story."
"Pretty sure I've got the time," Rango chuckles softly.
Fievel chuckles, too, agreeing with the chameleon. Besides, if he's willing to listen, who is Fievel to pass up the opportunity to share his stories? So, after they've returned home an dropped off the groceries, Fievel urges Rango back outside with him. The sun is higher in the sky now, and the heat creates an itch under Rango's scales, but he doesn't mind in this particular case. They walk a little aimlessly, Fievel leading the way, and that silence comes for them again. It only lasts for a few moments before Fievel speaks up.
"Cats," Rango confirms.
And so Fievel starts from the beginning. He tells Rango how things used to be in Russia, and about the frequent Cossack attacks. He tells him he was never afraid and that he even tried to scare the cats away a few times while his family hid. "Pots and pans probably weren't the best weapon choices, now that I think about it," he muses with a wry grin.
Rango commends his bravery regardless and urges him to continue.
Fievel does, and he tells him how they left Russia with high hopes that America would be better, safer. He tells him how he fell overboard and was lost at sea and how it was nobody's fault but his own. He should have listened, shouldn't have gone wandering around on the deck during a storm. He tells him about Henri and how he didn't understand what the pigeon meant by "now they are coming by bottle" then, but he does now. He tells him about the sweatshop, and about Tony and Bridgette and how he learned the hard way that cats are everywhere.
"Nowhere is safe," he comments with a small sigh, running his hand against the back of his neck.
Rango listens intently to Fievel's story, and how a rat turned out to be a cat and the leader of a gang called the Mott Street Maulers. He tells him how he met Tiger and how the two have been best friends ever since.
"Can't judge books by their covers," he chuckles. "Tiger's a cat, and a lot older than me, but none of that matters to us."
Rango clears his throat and has to look away for a moment. "Yeah, things aren't always what they seem."
Fievel cocks a brow at him but Rango just shakes his head and mumbles, "go on."
So Fievel goes on to tell him how they drove the Maulers out of New York by creating their own Giant Mouse of Minsk. Fievel takes no shame in bragging that it was all his idea, too – and, really, Rango can't blame him. If he had done something so incredible, he would want to brag about it, too.
He hopes Fievel doesn't notice just how captivated he is by all of this, by him. He's braver than Rango gave him credit for, and the lizard can tell Fievel's imagination still runs rampant and wild. And just when he thinks that's it, that's all Fievel must have to offer, the mouse grins just a little and says, "we didn't stay in New York very long, though. Just a few years. Things eventually went from bad to worse."
Fievel tells him about the last cat attack and the lies that drove them from New York to Green River. He tells him how he went exploring one night and overheard Cat R. Waul's plan to murder and devour the entire rodent population, after he had used them to build their own deathtrap. He tells him how he'll never quite be able to forget the way Chula cried "mouse overboard!" right before he was thrown from the train.
"Honestly, I think I would have rather been eaten," he grins and chuckles. He eyes Rango for just a moment as he says, "surviving alone in the desert is hard and terrible."
Rango gives a slow nod and speaks quietly. "Yeah. I know."
Fievel doesn't comment that he feels like his time in the desert and Rango's were two very different experiences. Instead, he continues his story and tells Rango how he found his way to Green River. Rango pays particular attention to just how Fievel managed to escape a hawk, and notes that dumb luck had been on the mouse's side, too.
"I needed help," Fievel says as they near the edge of town. "we all did, but nobody believed me when I told them what I heard on the train." He deepens his voice and mocks his father's accent when he concludes with, "the only thing growing faster than you are your tall tales."
He then goes on to tell Rango how he found Wylie eventually, old and washed up and out of hope.
"So far over the hill, he was on the bottom of the other side."
He tells Rango how he begged the old dog to help, and how Wylie turned him down. The rejection hadn't last long, but if Wylie was going to help him, the Sheriff had needed help of his own. Fievel tells Rango how Wylie had wanted a dog to train, but wound up with Tiger instead, and how he taught him how to fight and act like a dog.
"I would have loved to see that," Rango comments with a grin.
Fievel grins back. "Yeah, it was pretty great."
The story goes on, and Fievel tells him how Tiger, Wylie and himself saved the mice of Green River and drove most the cats out.
"Waul eventually came back," he says with a shrug, as though it didn't matter then and doesn't matter now, and Rango thinks it probably doesn't. "He tried to get us all a few more times, but more often than not, I think his attacks were almost personal."
"Well," Rango says and looks Fievel over, cocking his head to the side, "he obviously didn't get you. What happened?"
Fievel shrugs. "I guess he just got bored and realized there were other, better things to do with his life than waste it trying to catch one mouse."
"Where is he now?"
"Around," Fievel says. "He lives in the funeral home."
"And you just let him stay? Even after everything he's done?"
Fievel smiles at Rango, and there's something almost childlike and innocent in the gesture. "Forgive and forget, right?"
Rango wishes, for just one moment, that more people were like that. If they were, maybe he'd still –
He stops himself there, because there's no point in letting his mind wander down that road. What's done is done, and there's no taking it back. No one's going to hear him out and accept his apology and let him try again.
They've wandered outside of town, and Rango notes that Fievel's destination seems to be a boulder sitting out in the sands. When they reach it, Fievel pulls himself up onto it with practiced ease, then helps Rango up when he sees him struggling to gain proper footing. After they've made themselves comfortable, Rango grins manages to conjure up a weak grin for the younger mouse.
"Well, I definitely see what you mean now. You really do have a way with cats."
Fievel laughs. "It's just part of my charm." And he winks.
Rango has to look away and down toward the sand for a moment. He wonders if Fievel realizes just how charming he actually is, and quickly concludes, no, he doesn't. He's clever and he's brave, and though he's from big cities, he's let the west mold him into one of its own. He's young and his features haven't been hardened yet, but his personality is just about as rough-and-tumble as they come.
Rango has to clear his throat before he can even mumble a quiet, "yeah, must be." He hears Fievel chuckle and feels himself smiling weakly, and his color shifts just a little, taking on a rusted tinge to match the desert rock.
They're quiet for just a few moments before Rango speaks again. "That's really some life you've lived."
Fievel nods as he looks out into the horizon. "Tell me about it. But, you know, if I was given the chance to do it all over, I'd probably still do it all the exact same."
Rango smiles again, faintly, and turns his gaze to the horizon as well. "That's good. No regrets."
"None," Fievel assures him, then turns his attention away from the desert and to him. He's grinning. "But enough about me. What about you? What's your story?"
Rango's color quickly returns to its natural green, and then goes just one shade paler. He stiffens beside the mouse and makes it a point to avoid meeting his stare. He doesn't know what to say, can't spit the truth out, and so he does what comes naturally: he lies.
"I don't have a story," he says quietly.
Fievel eyes him, raising a brow again. "Anybody who winds up wandering alone in the desert has to have a story worth sharing."
Rango has to agree with him, but he can't tell him the truth. Not yet. His stiff spine suddenly softens and he loses his posture, slumping in his seat as he looks down at the sand.
"Sorry to disappoint you," he says quietly. "There really is nothing to tell. I'm just some poor, dumb bum who took a wrong turn and got lost along the way."
Fievel's quiet for a few seconds, then he grins and leans over, nudging Rango's ribs with his elbow. "That's some sense of direction you have, then."
Rango laughs weakly, gently pushing the mouse's arm away. "That's me," he says. "Perpetually lost."
"Well, you know," Fievel muses, and his grin softens into a smile, "lost things eventually have to be found."
His words make the flesh beneath Rango's scales prickle. He clears his throat and shakes his head and decides now is as good a time as any to get his gratitude off his chest. If he doesn't do it now, he's afraid he never will.
"Oh – uh – speaking of. Thank you. You know, for saving my life."
"It was nothing," Fievel says, and that smile somehow softens further.
"It was definitely something for me," Rango assures him. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you."
"You're welcome, then." That smile is still there.
"I mean it. I thought I was going to die out there, one way or another. But you – this is like," and Rango has to pause, because he realizes that maybe he was wrong before. Maybe he can have a second chance, and maybe this is it. He collects himself, clears his throat, and smiles weakly. "It's like a second chance."
"Well, then, as someone who's probably had more chances than he's entitled to, take my advice when I say: make it count."
And Rango suddenly thinks of Dirt and of Jake and how the rattler's coils felt as they flung him forward, casting him out. He thinks of the road and the Spirit of the West and how vast and empty the desert was as he walked it. Then he thinks of Fievel and all of his hardships and how he's turned out. He thinks of Wylie, an old, dead dog he never knew, and how he was able to pull himself up and out of the gutter. Wylie had turned what was left of his life around because this one little mouse believed in him, and now that same mouse is putting his faith in Rango.
"Make it count," Rango repeats and grins inwardly. A quiet "heh" leaves him, and then he says, "I'll give it my best shot."
Fievel grins back. "And I'll be rooting for you."