The room was too cramped, but AAARRRGGHH was used to small spaces. Trollmarket was never quite big enough for him. The ceilings were always high enough, but the walls were too close, too thick, the halls too thin and the market just a bit too crowded. He was big, though, very big, and he was used to…being able to reach everything, if he was optimistic about it. Blinky, who could never reach the high shelves, certainly appreciated having a big friend.
Toby’s room was just a bit…smaller than usual. Getting in and out was a pain, and even turning around without knocking anything over took a lot of care. AAARRRGGHH was sure that the gnome already hated him, due to how many times he’d knocked over the dollhouse.
And he didn’t like staying above ground. The threat of daylight was always in the back of his mind, even at night, and the air smelled different. The sounds were more open; stone and crystal tended to both soften and echo noise, so that no matter where in Trollmarket you went there was always a quiet, comforting hum. Not to even mention the bone-deep beat of the Heartstone. Here, so far away, he couldn’t feel it, and it left him feeling empty and alone.
The blinking pink-blue light from Toby’s video game pulsed silently against the side of AAARRRGGHH’s face as he tried to get some sleep. Trolls kept wildly different time schedules than humans, and although Toby had fallen asleep almost as soon as he’d kicked off his shoes and flopped onto the bed, AAARRRGGHH had significantly more trouble. He was tired, yes, but sleeping during the nighttime was unusual for him.
He shifted until he was lying on his stomach, head resting on one arm and eyes blearing watching the pause screen of Go Go Sushi. The bouncing sushi, whatever that was, pictures made his eyes itch, but when he closed them he felt more annoyingly awake than ever.
On the bed, Toby shifted in his sleep.
A waft of fabric soap and old socks.
A soft, unintelligible murmur.
AAARRRGGHH was glad one of them was getting some sleep.
Toby was a puzzle, to be sure, but one that AAARRRGGHH liked trying to solve. The kid was a little annoying, a little too loud and brash in places, but he was also surprisingly sensitive and emotionally intelligent. He knew when AAARRRGGHH was having a good or bad day, and if something happened to upset him Toby was always there offering a distraction or a listening ear, even though AAARRRGGHH didn’t often want to talk. He always took Toby up on playing the sushi game, because it was bright and colorful and happier than anything the darker corners of his mind stung him with, but there were some…
…of things that he didn’t want to share with Toby. The kid had fed him cassettes, opened his home and his heart to him, and the horrors of AAARRRGGHH’s memories were not for the boy to hear.
Toby twisted again in his sleep, making AAARRRGGHH’s ears twitch at the sound. He wondered what the kid was dreaming about. Sometimes Toby told him the wildest things, of birds wearing coats, of ice cream in the sun, of his tongue turning to stone. AAARRRGGHH’s dreams were so mundane, when they weren’t terrifying. Half the time they were about Go Go Sushi, now that he played it nearly every day.
The bedframe creaked as Toby shifted again, and this time AAARRRGGHH could make out a few words.
AAARRRGGHH dragged himself just a little bit closer. The words were so muffled and drawled that he couldn’t tell what their tone was. Either Toby was moaning or he was whining, the way he did when Jim passed over the offer to get tacos after training.
“Nooo,” Toby mumbled again. “AAARRRGGHH, no…”
AAARRRGGHH’s world stopped on a pin-point. The open air, the weird smells, the cramped room – everything was forgotten at those words. His entire body froze, as if he had been turned to stone.
Toby’s sleepy whines turned into a fearful sob.
AAARRRGGHH unfroze, scrambling backward as quickly as he could, scraping the floor as he tried to stay quiet. He was so distressed that his tattoos were beginning to glow; his vision was narrowing, darkening, and he knew he was going to have a panic attack.
He should have known better. Nobody had accepted him that quickly, nobody had ever just brushed off the ‘General of the Darklands’ thing like it was nothing, and Toby had just…dismissed it. Like it didn’t matter. Like it didn’t change the way he saw his friend, or interacted with him; like the fact that AAARRRGGHH had crushed larger people than Toby, that he had felt them break between his fists and his jaws, like the fact that he had eaten -- --
AAARRRGGHH didn’t notice hitting the wall, but he knew there was nowhere further to back in to, no place for him to retreat to, and the red and the
the salt and the screams that his friend was now echoing
He should have known it wasn’t that easy
The sound of his back scraping the wall woke Toby. AAARRRGGHH stared at him with half-black eyes, trying, trying to keep his despair under control. He didn’t want Toby seeing him with glowing tattoos and dark eyes, just when the poor boy had been having a nightmare about –
Toby threw the covers away from his legs, still tripping as he rushed at AAARRRGGHH. The enormous troll expected to feel blows, weak little fists and useless fingernails, but Toby’s arms circled around his neck, his face pressing against the mane underneath AAARRRGGHH’s ear. The boy was trembling; AAARRRGGHH closed his eyes and breathed, breathed enough that he could smell the salt of tears and sweat, instead of the memory of blood.
Toby squeaked out his name again, and braced his socked feet against his chest, trying to squeeze his neck tighter.
“I was so scared,” he murmured into AAARRRGGHH’s hair. AAARRRGGHH didn’t open his eyes.
…They all had been…
“I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Toby’s words put a halt to the guilt, the echoed sorrow. He…?
“It was the worst dream ever, Wingman. I thought I’d wake up and you’d be dead and I was alone and you were gone and it sucked…”
Ohhh great Deya and all her soldiers…
Toby hadn’t been scared of him – he’d been scared for him. So terrified that he woke up crying.
Oh, bushigal, now AAARRRGGHH was shaking too. He shifted until he wasn’t crouching and pulled his arms over Toby’s back. Opening his eyes, his vision cleared slowly, and his tattoos faded until they didn’t shine anymore.
“Wingman scared,” he muttered. Toby sniffed and nodded. He let go of AAARRRGGHH’s neck and hopped back down to the floor, wiping his face on his shirtsleeves.
“It sucked,” he said again. His voice was muffled from the fabric and a tightened throat. AAARRRGGHH clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to find a way to express what he feared.
The boy stopped cold; he lifted his face out of his shirt collar, glass green eyes looking at AAARRRGGHH with so much surprise and heartbreak that he regretted ever asking. But he didn’t say anything.
He looked at the floor and sighed, sniffing one last time before squaring his shoulders and looking up at AAARRRGGHH’s face.
“I won’t lie,” he said quietly, “It’s weird that my wingman knows what I would taste like. But, y’know, I really don’t care.”
He climbed onto AAARRRGGHH’s thigh and faceplanted against the troll’s chest, burrowing his head underneath AAARRRGGHH’s chin.
“I feel safer right here than anywhere else.”
He raised a hand and fist-bumped AAARRRGGHH’s collarbone.
“This is my safest place.”
AAARRRGGHH’s hand covered the kid’s whole back, but it was the best embrace that he could give.
It took half an hour...
The bouncing of the sushi pictures…
Tear-dampened cloth, and sock-footprints on the wood floor…
A tiny warm patch on the side of his chest, when Toby finally peeled himself away…
…until Toby was ready let go, and this time, when AAARRRGGHH curled against the floor, he found sleep in the quiet night. The blanket Toby had torn off of the bed tickled his ear, and the weight of the boy cocooned in it rested against the back of his neck, and when AAARRRGGHH closed his eyes he saw the almost-dawn before the daybreak, and dreamed of sushi…
He still didn’t really know what that was…
His Wingman breathed slowly, completely trusting as he curled against his friend…
…he dreamed of sunlight.