NBA Chapter 5.5


Bunbun’s Burden


Two bags hit the compact dirt ground. The summer sun shone strong late into the afternoon and the lasting midday heat was particularly noticeable away from the shadowing trees. Bunbun turned from the sky and hurried forward.

He and Tara had lagged behind and were eager to add their own to the pile in the center of the clearing. Tara made it there first and shrugged her off. 

Bunbun took two more jumps and stopped at her side just as the smaller pack landed on the others with a thud. He straightened to make it easier for her.

Swish.

A blur of white and pink dashed past him. Bunbun froze. Blinked. He turned around and watched as Tara ran over to the silver bot who stood in the shade of a tree off to the side. 

She giggled and leaped into its occupied arms— If it was surprised, it didn’t show it— The bot merely lifted and held her as James had earlier. It listened as she talked, then bent down to pick up the firewood it dropped. Tara helped carry the smaller sticks. She pointed out more on the ground, like they had done it a hundred times, like it was natural, and happily directed it to move. 

Meanwhile, Bunbun still sat in place. His pack strapped to his back. 

He looked back at the bag pile, and his ears began to droop. About halfway down, his eyes squeezed shut and he shook his body. The short white and black fur fluffed out and the cups in his bag jiggled with his movements. 

A soft huff. 

He could do this. He didn’t need Tara. He was older, much older. And it was just a bag. Just a strap. He would do this. 

Bunbun clenched his little paws into fists and looked down at his chest. Seth had made the bag specifically for him. It was about the same size as Tara’s, though he had insisted it should be bigger, and had two shoulder straps connected by a black plastic buckle in the center. 

He experimentally pawed the buckle; The others would make a pinching motion to open it. At a closer look, there were two distinct places on each side, sort of indented. Bunbun’s claws lightly scratched the surface as he put more force into his paw. The indent gave way and he nodded— it seemed easy enough. 

He brought one of the white dipped paws lower and, after some contemplation, turned it over. Each pink paw pad was now pressed against an indent. One on top and one below. It was an uncomfortable, but not impossible, position. Okay. 

Bunbun pressed, and his fur-covered paws immediately slipped— Left and right— In opposite directions. The momentum offset his balance and his back paws scuffled against the dirt as he tried to regain it. 

Feet steady beneath him, Bunbun sucked in a breath and narrowed his eyes at the buckle. He carefully lifted his paws back onto it and slowly…slowly…pressed. More and more.  All of his focus was on the buckle. His tiny arms quivered. It fought against him. Tried to snap back. He couldn’t let it. He, wouldn’t, let it. 

“Kiiiii…” A bit-back sound escaped his jaw as the quivers spread and his back shook. He gnawed his lower lip. Panted. 

Just a bit more. Just a bit more. He was strong. He could do it. Just a bit. He could— The buckle clicked.

He watched, wide-eyed, as it slipped open the rest of the way, the two parts separated, fully and truly unlocked. 

Bunbun let out a delighted squeal of victory, “Kiiyaaa! Kiiiyaaaa!” 

Did it! Did it! 

His little tail wiggled as he lowered his aching paws and allowed his arms to rest. His whole body was exhausted from the task. But it was worth it, because now that it was unlocked, all he had to do was to shrug it off.

Just simply raise his shoulders and shrug it off. Just shrug. Yes. Now to just shrug off. If he could just shrug. Shrug off…  

“…” 

It was not coming off. 

He lifted his shoulders, and dropped them, lifted, and dropped. Just shrug— Just shrug— Just— His eyes watered. 

The hard part was done! It was supposed to be done! It was supposed to just slide off! Why wasn’t it sliding off!!?

He desperately clawed at the straps. His paws barely reached, but if he could just— The claws hooked onto it. His ears perked up. Finally! Now he could simply pull it down and off… The ears fell. 

He yanked his paw once more, twice. Stared. 

It didn’t matter that he got hold of it. That he reached. He couldn’t move his arm further. In fact, it was stuck. He was stuck. 

Tears threatened to spill as teeth and claws tugged on the strap. More and more frantic. He didn’t care if he couldn’t get the bag off, not anymore, but at least his paw. He needed his paw back. Please, his paw. Bunbun swallowed down a whine. And tugged harder. 

He fell over onto his back, down in the dirt and dried-out grass, and kicked the strap with his back paw. His jaw stubbornly held on to it, pulled. His hunched form rocked back and forth, like a flipped turtle. Snap

His claw came loose with a crisp sound, distinct to his nearby ears. His body rocked, tense, a handful of times, and slowed. Bunbun gingerly stood. 

His fur was dirty and ruffled, the white part now brown. The free buckles dangled mockingly in front of his chest, so close to his face. 

The straps were intact, in place, and had not a speck of dirt on them. They looked the same as before. 

Bunbun threw a glare at his left shoulder and shook off the grime stuck to his fur. It instantly turned a shade brighter. As he tidied, and calmed, the cheeks hidden under fur warmed. And reddened.

He dipped his head to clean a paw, ears stubbornly up. There was no laughter, but. He glanced around; Tara and the bot weren’t where he last saw them. For an irrational moment, he tensed. Then he heard it, the giggles. And footsteps. They may have disappeared out of sight, but they couldn’t have gone too far into the forest if he could still hear them. 

A loud curse drew his gaze to the other side of the clearing. Kayla was nowhere to be seen, or heard. He wasn’t sure when she left. James stood not too far away from him, though. He had his back to him and muttered under his breath as he fiddled with something. The fact he wasn’t currently running after Tara and the bot spoke lengths to his awareness of his surroundings. 

Bunbun puffed out a small breath and lowered his paw, sat up straight. He had been lucky. And stupid. Had anyone seen what he just did… He raised his paws to his heated cheeks, a touch far too soft to be called a slap, and tapped twice.  

No. There was no time for that, he still needed to get the bag off— His gaze moved from the straps to James— He jumped over. 

Apparently, James had decided to take up Seth’s task of setting up the rain cover, possibly because the bot stole his firewood gathering. Most of it was done, the blue plastic sheet suspended at a good height over their to-be campsite. It was held up by three branches, and James, as there was one corner left to attach. Only, the rope wouldn’t reach. And he wasn’t having a good time with it. 

Bunbun came to a stop next to the spare rope, a few feet behind James. His lips parted, closed, he moved his weight from one foot to the other. The lump on his back shifted with him and the straps tugged harshly on his shoulders. In the end, the desire to be rid of the stifling weight won and he swallowed his pride. 

“Giiims, Kyu Ghyuu Ka Kuu… Kyuumi.” 

James, you help my bag… Please

He said it. Bunbun hung his head, and waited. The trees hummed as the wind picked up. It moved along his exposed fur, puffed it up, and stopped short at the bag. Nudged it. Bunbun shook the fur back into place and glanced up. 

James had his back to him. He muttered, and fiddled, paused, and cursed, fiddled some more— Cursed some more. 

Bunbun pressed his lips together, stared down at the dirt, he couldn’t decide if he should sigh or be angry. He scratched the ground with his hindleg, puffed out his cheeks in an expression that was definitely not a pout, and jumped closer. 

He extended a paw towards James’s pant leg.  

“Ehhh, where did Tara, and It, go?” 

James swiveled around. So fast, so abrupt, Bunbun barely managed to jump out of the way, and— A scaled tail swiped the air above his head— duck. 

As he moved, his left back paw caught on the rope; The knot that connected the old to the spare unraveled, and pulled away as the sheet collapsed to the ground, then. Crunch. It dragged one branch down with it. 

James stared at the mess, frozen. Bunbun did too. 

Kayla’s ears twitched, her head turned towards a certain mass of trees. 

“Oh. They’re in the forest, okay.” 

She continued past him and his empty gaze moved to her. His green tail swished. Sharp teeth parted, “You.” 

Bunbun winced. 

Kayla hummed and side-eyed him as she put the pot down. Some water spilled over as she did so. “What?”

“It’s your fault!” James screeched and gestured to the rain cover. 

She scoffed, “It is not.”

And so it began. Bunbun ears dropped, he ducked out of the way, and jumped over to the pot. A sniff… Wait? His ears lifted. He balanced on his hunches and peeked inside. It smelled of fish. A bit. Maybe. Perhaps. He was disappointed to find it empty— Only drinking water then. 

His front paws let go and he sat down with a small sigh. 

“You’re lucky I haven’t started the fire yet, or your crappy knot would have cost us the rain cover. Actually, maybe I should do it.” 

Kayla stood and lazily extended a hand. James— however— jerked. He held the rope he picked up further away from her. “No! I will do it!… You, you would just mess it up again!” 

Her eyes narrowed and the hand in the air closed into a fist. He met her glare with one of his own. Neither backed down. 

Bunbun looked from one to the other. He contemplated for a moment, then grabbed onto the edge of Kayla’s pants, and tugged. “Ghyuu Ka Kuu…”

Kayla glanced down at him and, at once, a wide smile bloomed on her face. Bunbun didn’t like it. One bit. And as it turned out, he was right not to. 

“Why, yes, Bunbun, you’re absolutely right— James IS being an absolute shithead.” 

Her voice dripped with such sweetness, she positively cooed the words. But that didn’t change what came out of her mouth. 

James’s sharp glare moved and stabbed into him. Bunbun flinched. He looked up at Kayla with large eyes. That— He didn’t say that. He wasn’t the one who said that. That was not… 

“Eyyy…Gyuu…” 

Kayla’s gaze, however, was entirely focused on James. Any pleading or signals he sent went unnoticed.

Her smile only grew at his words, “Yes, I know, he should just give up and let me do it. He’s sooo stubborn, right?” 

Bunbun gaped. 

How did she manage to get that from what he said? Was she doing it on purpose? She had to be… right? He eyed Kayla carefully. All he saw was the smug satisfaction and challenge thrown James’s way. 

James rolled his eyes, “Whatever…”

He turned around and walked away. Bunbun watched him leave. So… easy. He had expected it to go on for longer, especially without Seth here to break them up. Not that he liked their bickering… Bunbun shook his head.

Kayla’s smile faded the second his back was to her. James observed the collapsed pile, sighed, and began to untangle the rope from the broken branch. The mutters soon started up. She looked on for a moment, then turned away as well and went back to the pot. 

Bunbun followed her. She paused after a few steps and changed direction towards the bag pile instead. Her eyes roamed the treeline as she crouched next to them, “Hey, any idea when they will be back?” 

James was too far away for her low voice to be meant for him. Bunbun shook his head no. Kayla hummed and pulled out the fire starter from her pack. Both their ears twitched as an extra loud giggle came from the forest. 

Kayla rolled the fire starter in her hand, “…Are they even getting wood at all or just messing around.” She shook her head and pocketed it, then started pulling out the sleep rolls. 

Two bunny ears perked up at her words. Bunbun ran off and grabbed the nearest stick he could find. He would only get enough so she could start the fire. So she wouldn’t have to wait. It wouldn’t be a waste, the wood they brought back later could be used as spare. And she would be so happy.

He turned around. 

Click—Cluck—Clack… 

Brown branches tumbled down. One on top of one. Some were dried out, or rotten, some had fresh green leaves attached to them. The pile grew as more were added, it went from a simple campfire to something closer to a bonfire. 

Bunbun looked at the mountain, and the small stick dropped from his open mouth. It landed in the dirt by his front paws.

Tara and the bot were back. 

His ears fell, his head dropped, he trudged over. Fabric swished. His head turned. Tara ran past him and up to the pile, she added an armful more. She smiled and told Kayla about their gathering. James came up behind her, finished with the rain cover, and patted her on the head. 

Bunbun flopped down flat on his stomach, close to the bags. His legs splayed out beneath him. He watched as they chatted, as the fire got going. And water boiled. As the remaining tasks were taken care of. 

He took a deep breath. The bag resisted the movement, weighed down on his lungs. Pressed him— flat flat flat. The heat from it may as well have melted him to a puddle. One with the ground, a patch of dirt. Useless. 

Bunbun sniffed and held back tears. He truly was no better than dirt. He couldn’t do anything… Literally. Everyone always had to take care of him, and his screwups. In fact, he was worse than dirt. He was a burden.

Glassy eyes blinked at the paws stretched out in front of him. He turned them over and stared at the black star-shaped mark on his left paw pad. 

If only… 

His eyes squeezed shut. He pictured himself. Tall. Taller than James. Big and strong. With long long arms and deft paws. Yes. Be it a small bag, rain cover, or even… X-ers! He would be capable of anything he set his mind to. 

Bunbun clenched his paws into fists. And focused. Concentrated. Willed it. He would open his eyes, and he would be transformed. He would open his eyes, and he would be transformed. He would open his eyes, and— 

Nothing.

He opened his eyes; and familiar paws greeted him. 

A sighed. Every muscle in his body gave up on life. His chin hit the dirt and his nose twitched as dust rose up. He huffed. 

If only he could shift…

Metal feet walked past and stopped by the bags. It kneeled with a dampened clang, the sound was followed by rustling. 

He should be able to shift. At his age. No, even someone Tara’s age… could. So why couldn’t he? Why? What was wrong with him? 

The rustles stopped.

A pair of metal feet came onto view. Bunbun stared at them.

“…Bag?” 

His eyes moved from the feet, upwards. Squinted. The sun cast shadows over the figure above him, and made its back shine. It wanted to help? He lifted his head and properly looked up at it. “Kyu… Ghyuu Kuuuuu?” 

You help bag?

The bot nodded and crouched down, “Help.” 

Its arms lifted and a hand hovered over the bag. Bunbun glanced back over his shoulder. The hand paused. It lifted its other and gently grabbed his paw. The metal moved and the first strap slipped off his shoulder, then the other. And so the smothering weight was gone. Just like that. 

Bunbun turned away and murmured a thanks. He refused to look at the bot as he moved to stretch the soreness out of his back, unable to help the tinge of shame that rose up, but— A puff of wind threaded cooled fingers through his damp fur. It swept up the fallen leaves at his feet and rolled them across the ground. The trees swayed.

Bunbun closed his eyes and exhaled; 

Rid of the burden, at last. 

————————

A/N: 

Kayla: Ah, we’re missing two cups. 

Nanny Bot: Help. *Goes to get them.*

Kayla: *Slaps hand over James’s protest* Sure! * Happy she doesn’t have to* 

Nanny Bot skips over, checks bags, can’t find, spots Bunbun’s bag…


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