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Emerald Shadows

Chapter Text

Chapter One 

An Introduction

The Once-ler took a deep breath of the cool air as he stepped out of his multi-leveled home. He had a long metal claw in one hand, a bag of marshmallows in the other, and a trash bag slung over one shoulder. He was heading to the river inhabitated by the Humming Fish - he was going down to help clean up the last remnants of garbage which had polluted the water. He tried not to think too much of how it was his fault for that pollution, and instead turned to the more optimistic aspects of this effort.

For one, Once-ler was taking responsibility for his wicked actions. Three years previously he had met a boy named Ted Wiggins, who he had told his story to - the story of how he had let his invention the Thneed, and his greed to sell more and more of them, ruin the beautiful world of the Truffula Trees. The creatures who had populated the ecosystem - primarily Barbaloots, Humming Fish, and Swomee Swans - had been forced to leave because of his presence.

The air had also been choked with smog; oil and sludge had been dumped into the river. And all of the Truffula Trees had been chopped down, cutting off the Barbaloots' food supply and ultimately destroying the entire landscape. 

The Lorax, the orange-haired, moustached guardian of the forest and the Trees, had tried to stop Once-ler. . .but had he listened? No, of course not. Had he cared at the time, cared if the Trees had been dying? No. Greed, that was what had driven him. Pure, unfettered greed. It had clouded his heart like the thick smog hanging in the sky above him, making him forget about everything except his Thneeds. Always he wanted to sell his Thneeds! Everybody needs a Thneed, he used to think. It's a fine thing that all people need! 

Once-ler sighed. Oh, how he had been blinded. How he had let his selfish dreams ruin the lives of the creatures he cared about, those gentle animals of the forest! He had altered the lives of many people over in Thneedville, as well. The town of glittering plastic had been another creation of his - devised soon after selling over half a million Thneeds. He had been all about pushing for the next big thing. A technologically enhanced town where every surface was gloriously fake, yet new, was just the ticket. And although he had realized the error of his ways long before the first walls had been put up around the town, Thneedville had slowly come together, guided by the power-hungry Aloysius O'Hare. 

Once-ler had heard of O'Hare from Ted, who now visited him quite often to help clean the river and other areas of the land still covered in waste. Ted, along with his girlfriend Audrey (Ted strictly insisted she was "a girl who also happened to be a good friend," much to Once-y's amusement) had told them their exciting tale of how they had gotten the last Truffula seed planted in the middle of town. 

Ted and Audrey had also told them of how this O'Hare had made his living selling fresh air to people. (No doubt because Once-ler had gotten rid of the trees and smogged the air, hence making it almost unbreathable). Due to this, O'Hare had wanted to get the seed from them and effectively stop the last Tree from getting planted. It had been his living to sell air, after all. The Trees, to him, had been a threat, because they made the air "for free," as he'd apparently put it. Thankfully he had been stopped, and Ted had been able to speak for the Trees. . .just as the Lorax had. 

Now, here they all were - working together to restore what had once been lost. 

The glowing river finally came into view. With renewed energy in his step, Once-ler made his way down to the bank, where Ted, Pipsqueak the Barbaloot as well as others, the Lorax, and several Humming Fish were waiting. 

Once-ler waved happily as he approached, a smile tugging onto his moustache-covered face. "Good morning, everyone!" he said. 

"Mornin', Once-y!" Ted called. He clutched at his own claw and bag, which they were all using to dispose of the trash left in parts of the river. 

"Hello, Bean-Pole," the Lorax said in greeting, holding out his furry hand for a shake of acknowledgment. 

Instead Once-ler dropped his tools, scooped up the Lorax, and hugged him tightly. 

"Whoa whoa WHOA!" the Lorax cried, squirming in the man's grasp. "It is way too early for this right now! C'mon, Once. . .oh, for the love of Nature. Hey Ted, could I get a little help, please?" 

Ted chuckled, smiling. "Nope, sorry," he replied. "Moments of adorableness are sadly not allowed to be interrupted here." 

The Lorax grumbled as Once-ler finally put him back down, shooting a glare at Ted, who laughed. 

"You're just as bad as Audrey," the Lorax huffed, crossing his arms and puckering his lower lip like a stubborn toddler. 

Ted shrugged. "Hey, I'm just a sweet and sensitive guy. Besides, I know you love Once-y hugging you. You're just too proud to admit it." 

"Am not!" the Lorax protested. 

"Are too." 

"Am not! I am definitely not proud!" 

"I beg to differ." 

The Lorax growled in frustration, shaking his fists as if trying to contain himself. "I am not so proud as you might think!" he cried. "Because I'll let you know right now that I do love being hugged by Bean-Pole!" 

The orange creature then stomped his foot in finality, looking as though he had just finished telling Ted off and was satisfied. 

Ted just raised an eyebrow in triumph, however. It took a moment for the Lorax to process this, as well as process what he had just said. Then he promptly smacked himself upside the head. Ted and Once-ler both began to laugh now. 

"Aww, Lorax, you really do care about me!" Once-ler said, batting his eyelashes in a femininely flattered fashion. 

"Yeah, whatever," the Lorax mumbled,  picking up his trash bag and detractable claw from where they lay in the grass. "Just don't get any other radical ideas in your head, m'kay? Sheesh." 

Once-ler giggled, a cute, high-pitched sound, as the orange furball started walking away towards the area they had been working on, a few miles off. A few of the Humming Fish and Barbaloots followed after him - two of the Fish were actually having a fencing match with their smaller sized claws, a sight which made Ted smile. 

Ted and Once-ler were thus left with Pipsqueak, a heavy-set Barbaloot they had recently taken to calling Peanut, and two pairs of Fishes.

After exchanging a brief smile, Ted and the green-suited Once-ler walked after the Lorax and his small posse of forest animals, their own group of mammals and fish trailing right behind.


Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Of Growth and Darkness

"So, Ted, where's Audrey this morning?" Once-ler asked, as they all made their way to their clean-up site. "She's usually here bright and early." 

Ted shrugged. "I think she must be sick or something," he said. "I went to her house this morning to get her, but she said she wasn't coming. But she also said she'd try to make it out here in the afternoon, I think." 

"Hmph," Once-ler sighed, bushy eyebrows scrunching with concern. "I hope she's alright. Did she look at all unwell to you? Like, was she pale or red-eyed?" 

"She looked perfectly fine to me," Ted replied. "That doesn't mean nothing was wrong, though. Could we maybe, um, not talk about Audrey anymore, Once-y? I'm starting to feel all weird."

Once-ler looked askance at him, the skin beneath his eyes crinkling as he smiled. Ted noticed this after a moment, and stared back at Once-ler, feeling awkward.

"What?" the boy said. "What're you looking at me like that for?"

"Oh, I'm just enjoying seeing you so concerned for Audrey," Once-ler replied. "She's a bright and caring young woman, Ted. Don't deny it. I've seen how you two are together. . .it's like the skies of your worlds are exploding with light and happiness. It's just so wonderful to see - young love."

"Whoa, what?!" Ted exclaimed, stopping to look at Once-ler as if he had grown an extra head. "Once-ler, I already told you, we're not boyfriend and girlfriend! We're just really close friends. We like to hang out a lot, but that's it. Okay?"

Once-ler nodded in mischievous understanding. "Whatever you say, Ted," he said with a chuckle. 

Ted made an irritated grumbling noise that sounded a lot like the Lorax, but chose not to respond to that gleefully knowing comment. 

In a matter of moments, he, Once-ler and their animal friends had arrived at the site of the clean-up. The Lorax and some of the others animals were there waiting for them - the Fish and Barbaloots had already begun grabbing garbage with their claws, and putting it into their trash bags. The Lorax himself was standing with his own materials a little ways off, his arms crossed and his face etched with annoyance. 

"What took you so long?" the Lorax snapped, as Ted, Once-ler and their animal brigade approached. "We haven't got all day, you know. We gotta get this done ASAP." 

Once-ler rolled his eyes. "Someone's grumpy and impatient today," he remarked. "Come on, lighten up a little, won't you? We're almost done with this area. . .and if we work hard enough, the job won't take more than an hour." 

The Lorax did ease up a little, uncrossing his arms and getting his supplies ready for their task. He, Once-ler, and Ted then spread out a few feet apart, each preparing to tackle their chosen area across the trash-infested bank. 

So finally, with a last exchanged smile between the three friends, they got to work. 

Suggested Musical Selection: Let It Grow (Celebrate the World) by Ester Dean (from the end credits of the Lorax movie)

Once-ler's estimation of the time turned out to be quite accurate. Their task went by almost effortlessly, and even became fun, as Once-ler came up with some interesting ways to handle the trash. Throwing rotted food like basketballs, kicking cans like soccer balls and footballs. . .and many other silly combinations, like balancing things at one's nose or rolling items across one's arms and shoulders. They took breaks as well, and feasted on the marshmallows that Once-ler had brought from home. 

The Fish and Barbaloots soon took to trying their own methods of cleaning up in a fun way, and accidentally created little messes as a result. Ted quickly helped them out, however, leaving the Lorax and Once-ler by themselves on another patch of shoreline. Once-ler had reverted back to a more serious effort of collecting the trash, occasionally flashing moustached-filled smiles at the Lorax. The Lorax returned them, though after awhile, the gesture became sad, as he began to remember who the Once-ler had become, and what he had done to the Forest. 

As guardian of this Forest, the Lorax naturally spoke for the Trees, because the Trees had no tongues. He also spoke for the animals who lived here. A long time ago, it seemed, the Once-ler had come and changed everything. He had cut down one of the Truffulas to make his Thneed - from there, everything had gone drastically downhill. Evil and greed had blackened Once-ler's heart, and he had destroyed all of the Trees, and displaced the homes of all the animals.

But now. . .now Once-ler was different. He was who he was like before his Thneeds became a success - an optimistic, bubbly, carefree man. A little misguided at times, certainly. But age and regret had taught him. His mistakes had been realized. Now he was slowly picking up the pieces he had scattered, carefully putting them back in their proper place. It made the Lorax feel a mixture of emotions - on one paw, he was happy to see Once-le rectifying his actions and restoring the environment. On the other, he still felt a deep sorrow, sorrow that influences as terrible and wicked as as greed, power and money had driven Once-ler to wreck such chaos. It distressed the Lorax as well, for it only showed how darkness lay in the heart of every being, and how tapping into that darkness could led to catastrophic consequences. 

You finally saw the light, Bean-Pole, the Lorax thought. I was able to pull you back - though at a time much too late, of course - and at a price to everyone involved. If only you had seen that light at the end of the tunnel sooner. . .perhaps all of this could've been stopped, and the ecosystem could've had time to recover. 

That couldn't be helped now, the Lorax knew. The important thing to do now was to continue disposing of the trash and let the environment take over once again. It would certainly take a long while, but the Truffulas were already fairly tall, and the grass was a rich, full carpet once again. In no time the foliage would reclaim the once barren landscape completely, and then perhaps everything would feel (almost) normal again.

Until then, the Lorax, the Once-ler, Ted, the animals, and the even the residents of Thneedville would work together to keep this glorious earth clean. They would care for it and nurture it back to life, and simply. . .let it grow. 

At last, the patch of river trash was cleaned up. The various Fish who had worked to clean up their habitat began to cheer and high-fived one another. One of the Fish, as he went to high-five one of his fellows, accidentally smacked him in the face. The smacked Fish stared at the other in shock, then smacked him right back. Both enraged, they started a smacking war, until one of the Barbaloots broke it up. 

The Lorax chuckled at the sight of the Fish, and shook his head. He, Once-ler and Ted were standing in a small huddled group some feet away from the other animals. They each had their trash bags slung over their shoulders, which were practically filled to the brim with myriad scraps of garbage. 

"You just gotta love 'em," the Lorax said, referring to the Fish and Barbaloots as they began to play with one another on the now clean shore. 

Once-ler smiled in agreement. "I was just thinking the same thing." 

The three of them stopped for a moment to watch a tickle fight break out between the Barbaloots. The overweight Peanut seemed to be the ringleader, for he and some of the others were chasing after another group, of which consisted the adorable Pipsqueak. At one point Pipsqueak was cut off from the rest of his group, and was promptly tickled by the leading group. The young Barbaloot's squeals of delight were enough to warm the hearts of the Lorax and the others a thousand times over. 

When the tickle fight ended, the Barbaloots scurried over to them. Pipsqueak climbed up Once-ler's leg and, with a little push from Once-y himself, settled on one of his shoulders. Many of the Barbaloots swarmed the Lorax, as well, and Peanut - seeing Pipsqueak on Once-ler's shoulder - tried doing the same with Ted, who was soon pinned to the ground in a suffocating heap. Peanut swiftly got up and apologized, and instead hid behind the Lorax, who just rolled his eyes. 

 "Let's head into town and get rid of this trash," Once-ler said. "I don't know about either of you, but my back is starting to ache." 

"You get used to it when you're old," the Lorax replied. 

Once-ler glared at him. "Excuse me? Did you just call me old?"

"No! Well, technically, yes. But I didn't mean it in an offensive way! I'm just saying you get used to it and everything. I would know, I'm fairly old myself. So I'm just speaking from experience." 

Once-ler raised an eyebrow, but did not press the point any further. He knew the Lorax hadn't been trying to be insulting. It was just the way he had said what he said that surprised him for a bit. "Come on then, old man," Once-y said teasingly. "Let's get rid of this trash, then we can find a place to sit down, eat, and rest our weary bones." 

"For the record I'm one of the animal guardians of the natural world, who just happens to have a century or two under his belt!" the Lorax corrected, as he and the others - animals included - headed for the distant smudge that was Thneedville peeking over the horizon. It was only about two or three miles away - a pleasant, none too rushed journey. It was almost noon now, so at a steady pace they would reach the town by one or two o'clock. 

"You know what they say," Ted piped up from between Once-ler and the Lorax, elbowing them gently. "Old men like you two hafta stick together!" 

The two of them scowled, though the Lorax seemed more put off by the comment than Once-ler was.

"Just shut up and keep haulin' your trash, Ted," the orange guardian grumbled, shifting his own bag a little to get a better grip on it. 

Once-ler rolled his eyes. "He's really sensitive about his age, isn't he?" he asked, in an undertone only Ted could hear.

"Maybe that moustache is glued a little too well onto that furry face of his," Ted offered. "It's probably making him self-conscious of just how old he really is."

"That's an insightful viewpoint, Ted."

"Thank you. And you know, it could be either that. . .or it could be that he's just a grumpy old troll with attitude issues." 

Once-ler burst out laughing. It was contagious, because then Ted began to laugh with him. They continued to laugh for some time, the Lorax throwing annoyed looks their way as they walked along the burgeoning hills.

Now I wonder what they think is so gosh darn funny, he thought, considering whether or not to ask the pair. Eh, forget it. It's probably just some stupid knock-knock joke. I just hope they aren't laughing at me, 'cuz I'll go right up their nose if they are!

So the Lorax turned away from his two friends and focused on the glittering buildings of Thneedville, looming up slowly. The thick iron walls surrounding the town had been removed shortly after O'Hare was imprisoned (a public event that even Once-y had attended). Now Thneedville was exposed, left for the whole world to see. 

The Lorax felt a smile tug onto his lips. They really had made a difference here - and it reminded him of what he had once heard the Once-ler say. 

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. 

And now the Once-ler, as well as many others in Thneedville, cared enough to make things better. 

The Lorax just to admit it. He loved these people working to preserve and protect the environment.

It did his heart good to know that they really, truly cared.