Dave woke up with a scream. For a few heartbeats, he just lay on his back without moving, his fingers still clenched in his sleeping shirt.
As soon as realized that his heart was still beating very loudly beneath his hand and everything had been just another stupid nightmare, he rolled over to bury his face in the pillow with an agonized groan. Man, he could only hope Bro wasn’t home to hear his glass-shattering banshee screech right there.
It was hard to breath with his face in the pillow, but Dave needed a moment to calm down.
He didn’t even know why it freaked him out so much - it was always the same dream, more or less, so it should be getting old by now, right?
Why did his mind even think it was a great idea to make up creepy stuff about his bro’s favourite ironic puppet? There was nothing wrong with Lil’ Cal. Everyone in their right mind could see he was dope.
Man, he’d known the guy for all his life, he was basically family.
Still, he was haunting him in his dreams, literally haunting him, by being everywhere and nowhere at once. And fuck if he wasn’t scary as hell with those glassy eyes staring into his soul and his mouth clapping and this voice, damnit, this high boyish voice, sing-sanging all the time: Let me eat it, Dave, let me eat your precious little heart.
For a very horrifying second, it was still so real inside his head, almost as if someone was whispering the words right next to his ear.
I wanna be a little boy, too.
Dave froze in his bed, holding his breath. He didn’t even dare to move the pillow from his face, so he lay in darkness and just listened, his heart racing painfully fast.
Of course, nothing happened, except for the fact that he’d almost peed his pants here, because things weren’t already embarrassing enough. He guessed he was just extremely lucky that Bro didn’t know what he was dreaming about, because that bastard would so have a field day with that.
After a moment of silence, he took a deep breath, threw the pillow away and finally got up, just to look at Lil’ Cal’s puppet face staring back at him.
He jerked back, accidentally kicking the lil’ dude right off the bed, and put his hands over his mouth just a second too late to muffle his shriek.
It took him a moment to reassure himself that this was just ridiculous and that he had to get his ass up and put Cal back onto the bed, because hey, the poor guy had only wanted to wake him up. No reason to be mad at him, right?
Dave figured he should probably apologize, too, just in case or something. He didn’t really feel like giving him a fist bump, though, and to be honest, he was kinda in a hurry to leave his room and get some breakfast.
Soon, he was eating cereal while watching his bro play one of his many pretty sweet video games – and damn, there was no denying, his gaming skills were rad – and he finally felt at ease again.
Lil’ Cal was Bro’s favourite puppet that he took basically everywhere with him. There was no way Bro wouldn’t have noticed if his best bro Cal was a walking and talking crazy murder puppet. And how was that thought even remotely logical.
Apparently, he had been a bit too wrapped up in this flawless example of common sense, because suddenly, Bro nudged Dave’s arm with his elbow, causing the boy to spill half of his milk all over his lap.
“Augh, man, uncool!”, Dave protested and tried to do some damage control by soaking the mess up with his long sleeping shirt.
He could swear Lil’ Cal over there on the box was laughing at him.
“Suck it up”, Bro told him and gave him a pat on his head.
From then on, Dave gave his whole attention to his brother’s game and finally managed to wipe this bullshit from his mind.
There was, after all, no better way to spend his weekend than by chilling with his Bro on the couch and if he was lucky, they’d be playing some sweet games until Bro would leave for one his gigs.
One particularly bright morning, Dave woke up quite early. It took him a moment to realize what was different - and when he did, he could barely believe it.
For weeks, the dreams had been getting worse and worse, leading to a real paranoia, until he’d been incredibly jumpy all the time and constantly been turning his head at the sudden notion of someone watching him. The worst part was, half of the time, he’d been right.
He hadn’t even dared to be alone at the apartment anymore, even though he knew Lil’ Cal wouldn’t be there if Bro was gone.
But for some strange reason, he hadn’t dreamt anything scary this night.
No puppets, no creepy talk, no one wanting to eat him. Just him rapping about cucumbers and other vague bullshitty stuff people were supposed to dream about.
So when he got up, he felt actually pretty great. He went into the bathroom without running into Lil’ Cal even once, and the best part was, he didn’t even dread it.
Really, it was beyond him why he ever had. He would just give the lil’ dude a fist bump to show him that he appreciated him. After all, the little guy needed some love, too.
He brushed his teeth, fought two dreading pimples and did his hair, all without any puppety interruption. Then he put on his glasses, nodded at the cool kid in the mirror and headed for the living room.
Up to now, there’d been no sign of Cal all morning - which was so unusual that he was almost starting to miss the little guy.
At the door to Bro’s room, he was surprised to hear him talk to someone. Bro never had friends over, or a girlfriend or anything, so this was more than weird. It had always been just Bro and him inside this apartment.
Dave wasn’t even sure how to proceed now, but he decided to simply pretend he hadn’t noticed and to be cool about it - as if there’d ever been any other option – and maybe catch a good look at the mysterious intruder.
He was just entering the living room, when a high-pitched laughter made him freeze right where he stood. It resembled a young child’s laugh, except that no child would ever produce such an eerily mechanical repetition of HAA HAA HEE HEE HOO HOO and not be put away in a padded cell.
It was literally the stuff Dave Strider’s nightmares were made of.
He turned around, expecting a batshit crazy laughing puppet to jump at him and rip his insides out, but instead, there was Bro half-lying on his futon and a little boy sitting on his stomach, giggling happily.
All in all, the whole scene did not make the slightest bit of sense to Dave, even if he hadn’t been scared to death only a second ago. He’d never seen that odd boy before, yet Bro was grinning at him and even ruffled his ash-blond hair in a strangely affectionate way.
Bro was not one to hand out a bit of cuddling at any occasion - it was something you’d have to earn yourself the hard way. It was unreal to see him act so close to somebody else.
Dave just stood and stared, too confused to know how to feel.
Who the hell was that kid?
Suddenly, the boy turned his head and his big bright eyes were staring directly at him.
“Oh look, it’s Dave”, he said with a giggle, obviously highly amused at Dave’s expression.
It wasn’t only his voice, everything about him was uncannily familiar. The striped sleeves and trousers, his big blue shirt, the reddened cheeks and his large staring blue eyes-…
“Lil’ Cal…?”, Dave heard himself ask, uncertain if he was just going crazy right now or still half asleep.
Bro just gave him a weird look.
“Course it’s Cal, who else.”
The boy laughed again and added: “Dave is such a weirdo.”
Dave really felt he was missing out on something important. If there was a joke here, he most definitely didn’t get it, not even the slightest little hilarious bit of it.
“But how-“, he began, before he had entirely settled on what question was the most urgent. “…he’s- he’s talking?!”
Now Bro was grinning, too, and Dave felt incredibly stupid.
“I’ve always been talking, silly boy”, the boy explained with a smile, his bright eyes shining. “You were just too stupid to understand me. You’re so slow, Dave.”
He giggled again, as if he’d just made the most brilliant joke. Dave somehow got the impression that the joke here was he himself, and he did not like that notion particularly much.
“Whatever”, he said, and just turned around to follow his original plan – get some cereal and be cool about it.
There wasn’t much left, he noticed. Food didn’t last long in this apartment, even if it was something Bro didn’t like. When he poured milk in his bowl and turned around, he bumped right into the bright eyed boy and almost dropped his breakfast.
“Fuck”, he blurted out. “How do you always sneak up on me like that?”
The boy’s eyes were big and innocent, but still strangely glassy, Dave noticed.
“Though it’s probably not that mind-boggling, now that you’re alive and not a puppet anymore, I guess”, he added, although he still wasn’t entirely sure what to make of all of this.
For once, the boy didn’t chuckle at his words, but smiled at him with what he probably considered a very friendly smile.
“No, Dave, I’m a still a puppet”, he explained. “But you’re also right. You know, to Bro, I’ve always been real.”
Dave didn’t want to appear as if he didn’t get anything, but he badly needed explanations, so he decided to seize the opportunity. “No shit? Because I could swear that up to yesterday, you still were very much not alive and not talking and stuffed with white puppet stuffing stuff.”
There was this unnerving giggling again. Dave supposed he’d walked right into that one.
“Oh, aren’t you a smart boy”, Lil’ Cal said softly, and there was something mocking in his smile. “Obviously, I’ve become real to you, too.”
Dave just nodded. “Right. Okay, that clears everything up.”
He decided to eat in his room. Maybe when he had a moment with no blue piercing eyes staring into his soul, he’d finally be able to piece two and two together.
But Dave hadn’t even finished his cereals nor cleared up the confusion in his mind, when the door opened and the puppet-boy was standing in the doorway.
“Can I come in?”
Dave shrugged. “Sure.”
So the boy came in and sat down on the bed beside him. Strangely enough, it didn’t really feel odd to think that this was in fact Lil’ Cal. He reminded Dave so much of him that it almost felt as if it didn’t make any difference.
It was just a bit out of sudden, Dave assumed. Nothing he could not get accustomed to. Cal was basically family, right?
“Guess I shouldn’t be surprised”, he finally broke the silence. “I mean, Bro’s always been so attached to you.”
Cal nodded, apparently pleased with that statement.
“Bro loves us puppets”, he elaborated very readily, his blue eyes wide. “He cares for us and understands us. But that is something a dumbass like you will never understand, right?”
As this joke was really getting old by now, Dave decided not to care.
“Yeah, I’m such a dumb piece of shit. Wow, it has to be so hilarious to talk to such a huge stupid moron, I hope you don’t die laughing.”
Cal just smiled at him. “Oh, yes. Finally you get it.”
Somehow, he had liked Cal better when he hadn’t been talking.
“But honestly, you’re mostly very useless”, the boy suddenly continued. “I don’t understand why Bro even bothers trying to teach you anything. It’s not like you’ll ever be good at it.”
Okay, that kinda stung. And there was really no reason to put up with this bullshit any longer if all Cal was going to do was mock him. He was about to tell him to just leave, when he noticed Cal suddenly had an almost sad look on his face.
“It’s always been just us”, he said softly. “And then, you came along.”
The boy had started to dangle his legs, his gaze fixed on his feet.
“It was a mistake. He thought you were another puppet, but you were a stupid little boy. And what would he need a boy for?”
He looked at Dave with wide eyes, apparently really waiting for an answer.
Dave didn’t know what to make of this. What was Cal even referring to?
“He’s my big bro”, he said with a shrug. That wasn’t a very clever answer, but he was a bit out in the blue here. It had never hit him like that, but he really couldn’t tell what he meant to Bro. “I dunno, that connects somehow. All that family shit, you know.”
“No, Dave”, Cal smiled. “I wouldn’t know.”
God, he was scary when he did that. Dave supposed it was just a bit of an Uncanny Valley effect, with those staring glassy puppet eyes.
“But you’re right”, the boy continued. “You’re his precious little brother, who is always trying to be as cool as him and always failing miserably. But it’s just so cute when you make crappy music and flail around with your cheap piece of shit sword you own.”
Cal was eying him with a curious expression now, and Dave started to feel rather uncomfortable under his intent gaze.
“And you scream so loud when you’re scared, and even longer when you get hurt. He can hurt you and you bleed for him”, Cal sounded dreamy now, as he gently let his fingers brush over Dave’s lower arm. “Oh, and he can bend your fragile little arms until - crickcrack - your bones break into two!” He looked up at Dave with an excited look in his eyes and licked his lips, as he whispered: “You can even cry little tears…”
It was this moment when Dave started to feel legitimately scared to be alone in one room with this lunatic.
“What the hell, dude. That is messed up”, he blurted out.
Cal inclined his head. “I just wish I were a boy. Is that really so messed up?”
Well, Dave supposed that made sense in a way. God, for a moment, he’d almost been creeped out here. Still, with all this downtalking, he’d assumed Cal would have some puppet pride.
“What, I thought being a puppet is so awesome. What would you want to bleed for?”
He regretted asking as soon as Cal moved closer.
“It’s so useless talking to someone who’s so slow”, he put his hand on Dave’s shoulder, “You are so useless”, his hand brushed gently over the record emblem on Dave’s shirt, “If I were a boy, Bro could hurt me”, he whispered, softly pressing his hand right on the slightly left middle of Dave’s chest, “and I’d bleed for him, I’d bleed pretty crimson blood. I want to show him how I love him.” His eyes shone when he said the last words, his hand still feeling Dave’s heartbeat right beneath his fingers.
“That’s not how-…”, Dave began, now entirely at loss of words, but who wouldn’t be, seriously – he batted Cal’s hand away and quickly got up. “Wow, that is so fucked up - why would Bro even want you to do that?”
“It’s what he loves about you, silly”, Cal said, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world. “But if I could do that for him, too, there would be no need for you anymore.”
He chuckled at this idea. “Then I would be his little bro. Wouldn’t that be perfect?”
In the blink of an eye, he was right in front of Dave, his finger caressing his chest again.
“I only have to eat your precious little heart, and I will be his perfect boy. But don’t tell him that, it would ruin the surprise, you know”, he added with a wink at the completely stunned Dave, and giggled as he left the room.
For the next two days, Dave tried to avoid Cal as much as he could by just staying in his room. He didn’t even chat much with anyone, not even John, because he really didn’t know how to tell them what was going on here. They’d just think he was going nuts, and he couldn’t even blame them. So he just tried to mix up a few ill beats, but he didn’t really feel like it and they were actually mostly crap.
Most of the time, he could hear them talking in Bro’s, especially Cal’s bright voice and his piercing laughter, and after a while, he couldn’t stand it anymore. He didn’t intend to avoid Bro just because of Cal, and as Bro did not seem to miss him with his always giddily talking company, Dave had to venture into Cal’s presence again.
It wasn’t as strange anymore to see Cal no longer as a puppet, but a very alive boy. Still, it continued to weird him out that Bro was acting as if all of this was completely normal and had always been that way. Was Cal right and for Bro, it had always been like this?
Dave figured it had to be, because they did get along just way too well.
When he was sitting beside them, Cal would use lots of references Dave didn’t get and hint at things Dave had not the slightest idea of, leaving him often completely out of the conversation. What was even worse - Cal could not only amuse Bro, he could even make him laugh. Dave had never gotten more than a grin and an appreciating remark for any of his ironic jokes, if anything. It hadn’t mattered, he’d just assumed that Bro wasn’t the type to laugh out loud, but apparently, you just had to play in a different league.
But really, that wasn’t the worst part – it was only kind of annoying and it made Dave feel horribly expendable and cause him doubt everything he’d ever thought about him and Bro having a special brotherly thing going on, but yeah, it wasn’t what made his stomach turn.
What really set him off was the repulsing way in which Cal hogged Bro’s attention. Every time Dave managed to get into the conversation, Cal would be all over Bro, sitting on his lap and babbling happily, off-handing all of Dave’s remarks.
Then, on the third day, when Dave had succeeded to get Bro to play a video game with him, Cal just climbed on Bro’s lap, between his arms holding the controller and his chest, and whispered stupid remarks about how useless, silly and dumb Dave was, while constantly mocking his gaming skills. It seemed to amuse Bro a lot, which caused Dave to play even worse, as it was hells of distracting, and he completely embarrassed himself in front of both of them. Still, that was apparently not enough for the little bastard, who then continued to draw little circles with his nimble thin fingers on Bro’s chest, looked at him with big blue eyes and then softly kissed his neck.
Dave couldn’t look away and on the screen, Tony Hawk failed miserably at skateboarding, but he didn’t even notice. How could he, when his bro beside him had decided to play the game while kissing a puppet that looked like a small and fragile boy.
Cal had his eyes closed, his cheeks were flushed and he was holding tightly onto Bro’s shoulders as if he was an innocent ten-year-old girl, and Dave felt suddenly very sick at the sight of him readily opening his mouth to let Bro kiss him deeper, with tongue and everything.
Then Cal opened his eyes to look at him, while moaning softly into Bro’s mouth and moving his hips in a really fucking disgusting manner against what Dave could only hope wasn’t Bro’s hard cock.
Dave threw the controller aside. There was no chance in hell he’d win this match.
There probably never had been.
Bro just let his controller drop to the floor and then his hand was in Cal’s ash-blond hair and on his lower back, covering half of the small body and pressing him closer, but Dave only vaguely noticed that. His eyes were fixed on his bro’s hand caressing the boy’s head, digging into his hair so he could kiss him deeper-
Dave got up, feeling unsteady on his legs, but he had to get out of here. He couldn’t take any more of this. He felt utterly sick.
Few moments later, he was in the bathroom, pouring cool water over his face. Nothing was as it should be. He’d thrown up, he’d cried and sobbed curled up beside the toilet like a pathetic drug addict and then he’d thrown up again.
At least he couldn’t hear Cal’s loud moans anymore.
Probably they had finished over there, but Dave didn’t feel particularly much like checking what they were up to. If his bro had just fucked his boy-puppet on the couch and then taken him into his arms so he could snuggle up to him and whisper him a few sweet “I love you”s, Dave really did not need to know.
He hit the sink so hard his hand ached, which wasn’t exactly a brilliant idea, but now he could at least pretend he was just crying again because it hurt a fucking lot. The Dave in the mirror looked pale and sick - even the white in his eyes was now reddened – and he sniffed as he pulled up his nose.
So unbelievably cool.
Dave didn’t sleep.
His mind was full of things that wouldn’t let him. Bro’s hands all over Cal’s body, Cal moving beneath him, moaning, begging and giggling, and it was all so twisted and incredibly sick. And Bro- Bro loved that.
Dave wished he could stop thinking about it, because the very thought churned his insides. God, he was so jealous, he was so very jealous it physically hurt.
He didn’t share. He never had to share.
It was his bro.
The feeling was so overwhelming that he didn’t even know what to do.
Really, what could he do?
Except for crying and vomiting and getting all wrought up, that is.
Dave stared at the ceiling. He was still scared.
He was so fucking scared of losing everything and not being able to do anything about it. It paralyzed him so much, he couldn’t even think.
The door opened with a soft creaking sound.
“Dave, are you sleeping?”
Cal’s eyes shone in the light that fell through the window in the dark room.
Dave didn’t bother answering, and the boy didn’t mind.
“Don’t feel sad”, he told him softly, as he approached him. “Everything is going to be fine”,
he sat down beside him on the bed, “You feel superfluous, unloved and out of place, but that’s alright.”
Now his hand was brushing over Dave’s chest again, and the touch was surprisingly tender.
“You aren’t useless. You actually have a pretty good use”, Cal continued, talking gently to him, almost comforting, as he rested his hand right over Dave’s thumping heartbeat.
He was now above him, his eyes big and bright in the darkness.
“You will make both me and Bro very happy, Dave”, he said with a smile and leaned down to place a kiss on the younger Strider’s lips. “I promise, I will take good care of him.”
Suddenly, everything was familiar again. Dave had dreamt of this moment so often.
“Won’t you kill me before you rip it out?”, he heard himself ask, although he already knew the answer.
“Oh, don’t be so silly, Dave”, Cal teased him, as if they were just joking around. “It has to be a fresh heart.” His fingers were caressing Dave’s skin, feeling the pulse beneath it.
Dave nodded, his throat was suddenly very dry and he feared his voice wouldn’t support him.
“Oh, it will be so delicious”, Cal whispered, and Dave knew it was only seconds now. He saw the knife gleam in the smaller boy’s hand and held his breath.
This time, it was real. There would be no waking up.
Cal cackled softly, and before he could even think about it, Dave had moved faster than he ever had, pushing him over, one hand in the boy’s hair, and he jerked his head back. It made a nasty ripping noise, but Dave didn’t care. Hastily, his hand searched for something to help him and brushed over the knife, lying on the bed beside him, and without second thought, he grabbed it, stabbing the body beneath him over and over until he was starting to feel slightly dizzy.
Touching his side, he felt wet warm liquid on his fingers.
Cal had probably cut him. Bastard.
Dave closed his eyes. He was trembling all over.
The knife was still in his hand, but he didn’t dare to look at the body beneath him.
What had he done. What would Bro say. What-…
He fell forward, barely catching himself with his free hand, and jerked back immediately. He had landed right on-… what the hell was that?
Dave stared at the mess beneath him. He couldn’t really make it out in the dark, so he stretched out his hand again to feel the fabric and the stuffing wool that was now all over the blanket. Lil’ Cal’s head was missing, it had probably been ripped off and rolled to the floor.
No skin, no blood.
Just the remains of a stuffed puppet.
Dave started to laugh.
Of course, what else. What was he expecting?
Just a puppet.
Oh man, in retrospect, his own stupidity was actually fucking hilarious.
He laughed so hard that his wound began to hurt really badly, but once he’d started, he was unable to stop, so he just laughed and laughed at this enormous big joke he finally seemed to get.
Then he passed out on the bed and the fluffy remains of Lil’ Cal.
When Dave woke up, he felt sluggish and dizzy - everything was kind of a haze.
He slowly blinked in the bright daylight of the room. The TV was running and some dumb show was on that he and Bro liked to watch ironically. It was just then that he noticed he was lying on Bro’s futon, yet Bro didn’t seem to be around.
Dave tried to get up, but his body did not respond, so he gave up and just tried to look around, yet he couldn’t even lift his head.
That was odd.
He tried to curl his hand to a fist, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t move a single muscle. His whole body felt strangely numb, he wasn’t even sure that he could feel his fingers or his legs.
Dave’s mind was racing.
What had Cal done to him? Was he suddenly paralyzed?
He wanted cry, to call for Bro, but no sound came out of his half-opened mouth. All he could do was stare at the wall and the television screen, although there seemed to be something wrong with his eyes, too. It was like looking through a goldfish glass and the corners of his vision were kind of hazy.
Something blurred into his field of view.
“Oh, you’re awake”, Lil’ Cal greeted him. His face shone with happiness as he looked down at Dave, who would have very much liked to run or scream right now, but his body was still limp and useless, so he could just stare at the beaming smile and the bright blue eyes above him.
Strangely enough, they seemed to lack the uncanny effect - it actually looked more endearing than anything.
“How do you like it?”, Cal inquired politely, before he quickly added: “Oh, silly me, I forgot you can't answer!”
He laughed, and it was just a rather high boyish giggle that didn’t sound unsettling at all – which was enough to make it most unsettling to Dave.
“Look's like Bro has stitched you up”, Cal said as he moved closer and inspected the wound on Dave’s right side. At least Dave suspected that was what he did, because he couldn’t really feel Cal’s fingers touch him or any pain at all, for that matter.
“You know, Bro stitched me up, too”, Cal told him eagerly, as if that was the perfect thing to bond over. “Wait, let me show you!”
And with quick, nimble fingers, he opened his bowtie and his vest, before he carefully unbuttoned his striped shirt and opened it just enough for Dave to get a good look at his chest.
There were three dark, neat lines of stitches across the smooth skin and, Dave noticed, a rather pronounced one around the thin neck. In a very tender gesture, Cal let his fingers run over the scarless sutures.
“He has pieced me together all night long, carefully, stitch for stitch", he said softly. "And then…”
He bent down to Dave, took his limb hand with ease and pressed it to his stitch-covered chest. Cal’s pretty bright face was beaming now, yet he kept his voice lowered, as if he was confiding Dave in a big secret.
“...Bro fulfilled my biggest wish.”
And suddenly, Dave felt it - something he hadn’t even noticed he’d been missing since he had woken up: There was a faint thumping beat beneath Dave’s fingers, a familiar rhythm, calling and begging him. Yet it quickly faded away as Cal removed his hand to lay it on Dave’s own, all too silent chest.
Dave believed he could vaguely feel a row of stitches on its smooth surface.
Silent, he looked at Cal’s smiling face above him, and there was not a single tear in his wide red eyes.
“Oh, don’t worry”, the boy whispered as his fingers brushed over Dave’s hair.
“Whatever happens, Bro will always love his favourite little puppet.”