Blinkous hadn’t lived in the Trollmarket apartment long; perhaps a little under 200 years. It was long after he’d started his thesis, Human History 1000-2000AD in the Context of the Parallel Development of Troll Culture, As Told Through 1,000 Troll and Human Artifacts; as he’d clearly remembered, it’d taken him and Dictatious a good week to move all the papers in before sorting them assiduously.
Not long after, Dictatious disappeared- assumed dead, though of course, Blinky now knew better. He found himself lost, both emotionally and physically. Trollmarket overwhelmed him, as did the mess in his new home, a home that as supposed to be shared and that now fell so silent.
And then, through the mist of his grief and loneliness, appeared Aarrrgghh!!!.
Or perhaps it wasn’t so sudden. His relationship with the Krubera was long and complicated- too long for a thesis, easily, and one that caused him much distress trying to summarise effectively for the sake of his memoirs. Jim had asked once, and he’d spent a good while pretending he’d not heard, hunched over a book while the Trollhunter stared at him, apparently not convinced by what he’d considered marvellous acting on his part, before spending even longer thinking about what to say.
A lot of it Blinky was uncomfortable recounting, even to Jim, because it quite simply didn’t seem like his story to tell. He couldn’t find a way to discuss how he’d watched a young Aarrrgghh!!! struggle against his position as Gunmar’s general, against himself and his self-esteem, without surmising: he didn’t know what was going on in Aarrrgghh!!!’s head when he finally snapped and defected; what had happened in his youth and time under Gunmar; even whether their budding relationship had had any effect on his decision to leave. There was a lot more to Aarrrgghh!!! than perhaps he or anyone else would ever know, and he’d be foolish to assume his presence had had a major effect on any goings-on in the Darklands all those years ago.
Furthermore, much of the story was intensely personal. He was a young and foolish troll, and Aarrrgghh!!! was vulnerable, and they’d sought answers they’d never be able to find in intimacy. Blinky didn’t regret it- it was young love, beautiful and messy and sacred and utterly nonsensical- but it was the past, and a historian such as himself should be able to appreciate that some things should stay in the past. Not to mention, trolls were conservative and such subjects were, as a general rule, taboo. Trolls also weren’t conventionally a touchy-feely breed, but Blinky had four arms and Aarrrgghh!!! was oh-so-soft.
He’d tried to express all this to Jim, and he seemed to understand, but Blinky didn’t doubt the conversation would come up again.
Aarrrgghh!!! definitely appreciated the past as the past when he turned up after Dictatious’ disappearance. Overwhelmed by the appearance of an old friend in his hour of need, a small part of Blinky- the vulnerable, hurt part- wished everything could go back to the way it was. Alas, so much had changed. They were different trolls, with different priorities and different paths that had just so happened to converge in the bustle and chaos of Heartstone Trollmarket.
He’d had a strange relationship with the cave back then. It was littered with his brother’s things- books mostly, some yet to be unpacked, but also family treasures and knick-knacks, such as an ornately carved (if not long broken) grandfather clock that had belonged to their mother. Seeing them upset him, of course, but no more than the cold, lonely rooms or the stale air in which his brother’s absence seemed to hang like a bad smell. They’d not lived in the apartment long enough to have formed memories there.
In retrospect, this had been a blessing. Despite being Blinky’s home, it still felt so much like a middle ground, and it had been so much easier to connect with Aarrrgghh!!! in such a space. They were both a little lost, and forming a space around them allowed them to get to know each other again while working themselves out.
At first, it was just an afternoon or two, here and there, when Aarrgghh!!! popped round and would find himself roped into helping sort a seemingly endless amount of manuscripts, papers, articles and books. This would have been a task all on its own, except Blinky found himself too easily lost in academia again, falling back in love with literature, and Aarrrgghh!!! was a keen listener, treasuring Blinky’s bubbly presence after so long alone. As a result, afternoons soon stretched into evenings, then nights, and before they knew it, they were part of each other’s routines.
From then, the apartment became both of theirs, if it hadn’t already been. The books would never be truly sorted, thanks to their joint ability to get distracted by the other, and Aarrrgghh!!! in turn added his own touch here and there. There was more of a softness after Aarrrgghh!!! moved in; more cushions, more light, and little touches of homeliness that baffled yet moved Blinky. They could get higher shelves because Blinky now had someone to lift them, and they made sure things were less cramped, to allow for a large troll to pass through every room with ease. There was also a constant infestation of gnomes, and if Blinky didn’t make sure to clean often, he’d find hair layered over everything he owned. But sharing was compromise, and compromise was love. Blinky would sooner live with a thousand gnomes than without Aarrrgghh!!!.
Even for trolls, the orthodox thing to do was to fall in love, move in together and in the chaos, start a family. Blinky and Aarrrgghh!!!, a scholar-cum-conspiracy-theorist and a pacifist ex-general Krubera living in a cave far too small for the both of them, let alone the mountains of books they lived alongside, were never too orthodox. However, in retrospect, they had indeed started a family. Just in an un-orthodox way.
Tobias left the most mess. Once he’d embraced the chaos that boy left behind him, he found the trail of homework sheets, candy wrappers and breakages (as well as the odd scorch mark) to be rather endearing. The dwelling could not look any more different to when Blinky had moved in, and he liked that.
Claire was the total opposite to Toby, and liked to clean after herself- or not clean, but organise. She’d be hard-tasked to try “cleaning” an underground cave, but she did like to systemise everything, and not entirely in a way Blinky was used to. She tried to categorise his books by topic: “like a library”, she’d said. While mimicking human libraries was tempting, Blinky was ardent his books could not be so easily categorised, and to try was to do them and their ancient authors a great disservice. She remained unconvinced, no matter how many times they had it out. Blinky simply had to make-do with de-categorising everything as he went, making as much mess as he could in an effort to exhaust her. Petty, he knew. Yet, there was no malice in it, and for a while it distracted him when Aarrrgghh!!! was away, acting as a bodyguard for Tobias.
Jim’s presence and effect on the Trollmarket apartment was a little more complex. Like Claire, he was very neat- Blinky had been to his house and the spotless kitchen in particular had inspired a strange sort of pride in him. There was a Tupperware or two left lying around sometimes, and although it almost always contained Jim’s cooking, Blinky wasn’t sure it was Jim who was leaving them behind. He didn’t sort or meddle, and he was by no means interested in rifling through Blinky’s books (though a large part of him wished he would).
Jim’s presence, in fact, reminded Blinky a lot of when Aarrrgghh!!! moved in; a slow, natural, and mutual process. Blinky had set the ball in motion when he began picking out books he though would be useful to the Trollhunter- not necessarily that Jim would read, Blinky was a conspiracy theorist, not mad- and setting them aside in a small room he used as something of a second study. He later used the same room to hide (with Aarrrgghh!!!’s help) Jim’s birthday present, and then for them to work on it together.
Once the Vespa had gone, the room stood mostly empty for a while, save the books. He didn’t repurpose the room, just let it be for a while. He’d never intended that it was a room set aside for Jim, and yet in retrospect it had probably been the reason he’d not used it.
He’d found Jim napping in there once, and thought nothing of it. Jim napped a lot, in tiny spaces Blinky didn’t even know existed, where inevitably he’d come across the boy mid-nap and have to stop himself chuckling at the sight of the mighty Trollhunter tucked snugly between two bookcases, snoring softly. He made sure to never wake him, mind; his time as a human taught him the hard way what happened when a human didn’t get enough sleep, and Jim ran on minimum as it was.
Perhaps it was more than once, though. Blinky had never tried to keep track- why should he- and it was only until Jim was gone that he began to notice the clues. He’d only been in that room because he’d wanted to think. He’d wanted somewhere quiet, somewhere no-one could find him, somewhere where he couldn’t see Aarrrgghh!!!’s statuesque body or the piles and piles of books on Killahead and ways to open it. It was then that he’d found Jim’s holdall. It wasn’t hidden, just placed to one side, next to a stack of neatly-folded but mismatched blankets, and a cosy Jim-sized ledge.
Jim smelt like raw onions. Or sometimes garlic. Blinky had never noticed before, but there was a faint aroma in the blankets that made Blinky’s heart feel so heavy, it was if it had turned to stone.
Jim looked like he needed more than a nap when they finally found him. Blinky wasn’t sure how it was possible, but when he laid eyes on Jim once they were back on the solid ground of the forest, he could feel a sharp pain in his chest, as if the term “heartache” were more than just a metaphor. Indeed, the armour resulting from the Triumbric stones’ power was majestic, but his pride didn’t so much make him want to tear up as the dark smudges under Jim’s eyes, how drawn he looked, how he didn’t meet anyone’s eyes, not even Claire’s, not properly. And yet, he seemed happy enough, and when Aarrrgghh!!! caught his eye, he knew he wouldn’t pursue it. At least, not yet.
Yet, life had other plans. Once again, the cave in Trollmarket became a hive of activity, and Blinky hadn’t believed it possible they could get so many visitors. He’d given up trying to tidy, and books on Gruesomes piled on top of books on Merlin on top of books on Killahead. As long as they kept an area tidy for living, and enough space for Aarrrgghh!!! to get through, it was smooth running.
He still left the second study free, even though they could have used the space.
As such, he didn’t get the chance to talk to Jim, and the air in the apartment became stuffy with unanswered questions. Even though he missed him terribly, he could understand why Aarrrgghh!!! continued to spend so much time above ground, spending most nights at Toby’s. Blinky found himself wanting to pour himself more and more into his research- he’d been getting behind, it was time to be more proactive and anticipate the fight more, as he’d instructed Jim to do so many times.
And Jim continued fighting, training, laughing, cooking. Blinky wondered how he did it. He also wondered if maybe he’d been overthinking it when he though of them all as a family. He knew Tobias had been deeply affected by Jim’s decision to enter the Darklands alone, but what of Blinky? If anything, what hurt Blinky more was how distant Jim had become since he’d returned. He even considered a Gaggletack, before he watched Jim sigh to himself and resolved that, unfortunately, the answer was probably the most obvious one.
As the chaos widened and the space in the apartment grew smaller, it was only a matter of time before the subject came up.
“Master Jim,” Blinky called, standing up to straighten his back. He couldn’t help but notice the echo had gone from the room, the sheer quantity of paper in the room deadening the sound of his voice, as if it only existed in his own head.
Aarrrgghh!!! however, opened one eye sleepily on the other side of the room. It was just the three of them that evening.
“Master Jim,” he repeated, and Jim popped up from behind a stack of books, looking somewhat sleepy. “Master Jim, I felt I should make you aware of the time. Your mother will be most concerned, if you do not, how do you say… wear your skates.”
“You mean… Nevermind…” Jim rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, Blink, I… I was wondering if I could stay with you guys tonight? Just… It… It seems easier.”
“Easier?” Blinky repeated, and his heart fluttered in anticipation. Aarrrgghh!!! continued to feign sleep.
“I… Well… I guess not… It’s OK if you want to say no, I get it, there’s not much space, it’s just… It’s a lot, y’know, keeping up appearances, and… for some reason, it feels safer down here.”
“Well…” Blinky wasn’t sure what to make of that. He chose his words carefully. “If you are sure it would not cause your mother any distress, then you are welcome to your normal spot, if that is satisfactory.”
“It might stress her, but that’s… not my problem. Thanks Blinky,” he said, with a half-smile, and meandered from the room.
Blinky felt hot breath on his neck.
“I can never tell if I’m doing the right thing,” he said, without turning around, and Aarrrgghh!!! grunted. “When we decided to train the Trollhunter, I knew it’d be a challenge, but not… like this.”
“I think Blinky do great,” Aarrrgghh!!! sniffed, and Blinky smiled as the larger troll nuzzled his ear.
“Have you seen my backpack?” Jim’s voice cut into the moment, followed by the sight of the skinny teenager in oversized gym wear. Blinky felt Aarrrgghh!!! move away again, only to return holding Jim’s backpack.
“Sorry,” Aarrrgghh!!! said as he handed it over. Jim unzipped it to extract some of the books, bent across the spines.
“Ah, I see it made good use as a pillow for Aarrrgghh!!!,” Blinky chuckled.
“It’s cool, it’s not the worst that has happened to these, by far,” Jim waved the textbooks about, before trying to unbend them and shoving them back in his bag. “Look… Are you sure this is OK? I don’t want to overstep. I’m sure you guys have a life outside of trollhunting.”
“You’d be surprised. And, even if we did have a life outside of trollhunting, I rather like to think our relationship extends into that area, Master Jim. Which is to say, this is your home as much as ours.”
“And Master Jim… you know you can talk to us if you need to.”
His smile faltered.
“I… I’ll be alright, thanks Blinky. I appreciate this though, I think… I think I just need some space. It’s stupid, Claire and Toby can do it and they’ve done everything I have and more and they’re fine but I just… it’s stupid. I’m stupid. But I’ll be OK, I think.”
“Not stupid. Take time.”
“I agree. Rest up, Master Jim. Trollmarket is indebted to you, it is as much your home as Arcadia. You’re welcome for as long as it takes.”
“Thanks. It really means a lot, all of this.”
“Master Jim…” Blinky stopped Jim as he went to turn in, “Really… There may be disagreement about why you went into the Darklands alone, but it doesn’t change the fact that you were in there alone, and I, for one, am concerned you are not receiving the attention for the sorts of terrors you may have had to endure. Your decision to make the trip alone does not mean you have to bear the consequences alone. We are, after all, a team, and there is far more strength in admitting to weakness than feigning strength.”
Jim looked taken aback. Indeed, how had gone so long unsaid that perhaps everyone else considered that the conversation would never come up. For a moment, Blinky feared he’d said something wrong, perhaps upset him. However, the moment passed, and the tension dropped from Jim as he slumped his shoulders.
“I know. I… I trust you, Blinky, Aarrrgghh!!!, and part of me does want to talk about it.” He looked at the ground as he said this, but Blinky could hear the honesty in his voice. “But I also think, always be afraid… I’m afraid. I’m really afraid. And I want to use that, to protect Trollmarket and Arcadia and defeat Gunmar.” He looked up. “Once we’ve done that, we can talk about it. It won’t be long. Thanks for looking out for me though.”
Blinky wasn’t entirely satisfied, though he had to admit he felt better upon seeing the contentment on Jim’s face as he bade them goodnight. He wanted to talk through Jim’s troubles with him, and yet the boy seemed so tired, it seemed foolish to keep him from his rest.
Aarrrgghh!!!, as always, sensed the tension radiating from Blinky and rested a hand on his shoulder.
“I am afraid too,” he admitted softly, turning to rest his face in Aarrrgghh!!!’s soft fur. “But I suppose that’s a good thing.”
“Blinky rest too,” Aarrrgghh!!! murmured, and before he knew it, Blinky had been scooped up by the larger troll and laid down in his arms, where Aarrrgghh!!! had been nestling Jim’s backpack only a few moments earlier.
Family changed priorities, he supposed. He’d never been one for sleep- trolls didn’t need much of it- but now he found himself quite exhausted. The room around them may have been a mess, his dissertation neglected, and his heart heavy with concern for his young Trollhunter, but Aarrrgghh!!!’s warmth and steady purr lulled him into a deep rest, nestled in the safety of his arms in the apartment they would share long after Gunmar’s imminent demise.