It’s 10:34 am and you can hear them.
Lying in the bed you’ve come to know as your safe place, you can hear the shouts and cries that you’ve heard so much. Yet you’re still not used to them. It’s been 8 minutes and 14 seconds. You’ve been counting. You haven’t heard a cry of pain yet, though, which means either Dave is very fucking lucky, or Bro’s going easy on him.
You can’t help it. You grit your teeth. He must be lucky today. There’s no way Bro would go easy on him. Yet, you envy Dave, for being able to last this long without being hit once. You know you shouldn’t care, that you should just stop caring about it like you’ve done for so many other things, yet an emotion settles into your stomach every time this happens. You think it’s worry, but you can never be sure.
You stare up at the ceiling, marks and scars on it from all the different things you’ve done in this room. You can remember some of the things that caused those marks, like the one time you got spooked by one of Bro’s puppets and kicked it so high that it hit the roof, or the time Dave decided to try and juggle your daggers because it would look cool. Those memories stick in your mind, because you’ve been remembering them for the past year or so when you lie here to distract yourself from what happens above.
You notice a few cries of pain from above.
The crows caw outside, calling for food. You shuffle onto your side so you can see their forms tapping on your window, the harsh, orange sun illuminating their dark feathers. You fed them once, though Bro told you not to. Luckily for you, he didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem to mind, because now the crows come and annoy you every day.
You reach for your circular shades and put them on, hating the way the slide onto your face. You really fucking hate these shades, but it’s the only thing between your emotions and Bro. You’re lucky, though, because Bro made sure he got you a pair that looked cool on you, so there was that, at least.
You slide off the bed and, with careful, quiet steps, make your way to the window. The crows seem delighted that you’ve made your presence known, tapping and scratching at the glass. It seems they yearn for a gift. Unfortunately, you have nothing to give but the company of a weak girl.
It seems even then, you cannot give them company for long.
The sounds have stopped. You can’t hear shouting, can’t hear cries, can’t hear banging or clanging or anything of the like. So, that means they’ve stopped, either because Dave was too injured to strife anymore (low chance. Bro’s too cool to do anything too bad) or Bro had decided that the strife was over (highest chance, Bro probably got bored).
Waving goodbye to the crows, you grab your two daggers and exit your room, just a bit too fast. You realise it too late and cringe, expecting a trap. But there’s nothing. You look up, and there’s no bucket of smuppets ready to punish you deservingly for your beginner’s mistake. A sigh of relief escapes your body, and you take a mental note to thank Bro later for being kind.
You edge your way out of your room, more carefully this time, with precise steps. You’ve already made a mistake today, and can’t afford to make another one. Bro can only be so nice for so long.
You creep along the path oh so familiar to you, the one you tread every time a strife has ended. As you near the door that hides the entrance to the stairs, you wonder for a moment that maybe they haven’t stopped the strife, because Dave always gets out the door before you get to it.
Your doubt, as always, is misplaced.
Dave kicks open the door weakly, breathing heavily. His sword, as it always is after a strife, has very visible scratches on it. His clothes are dirty, some parts grey with dust, and his fingers are bleeding slightly.
“So,” You say, “how was it?”
Normally Dave replies with a snarky retort, or a brief summary of how Bro kicked his ass, but today must be different, because instead he pushes past you, one of his hands on his cheek. As you always do, you follow him, ignoring the puppets that seem to move in the corner of your eye.
By now, Dave should be heading to the fridge to face Bro’s newest trials in an attempt to get some sweet, fresh apple juice, but, much to your confusion, he isn’t. Sure, he’s headed to the kitchen, but he hasn’t even mentioned how nice it’s going to be when he has a sip.
It makes you confused, and you don’t like it.
You follow Dave into the kitchen, and you are still confused when he leans against the sink, still grasping his sword tightly in one hand. He hasn’t even glanced towards the fridge. It’s very confusing, and it makes you very annoyed as you lean on the bench next to him.
It makes you frustrated, because normally, you know what Dave’s going to do, at what time. One of the many things you note. Bro’s behaviour is unpredictable and it tests you, so you think you might as well just note the things you can predict instead. It makes you feel at least a little bit safer.
Dave begins to make small whining noises, tapping at his cheek. You know there must be some kind of wound there, but you can’t see it.
“Come on. What’s wrong?” You ask, needing to know why there’s been such a break in the schedule.
“It hurts,” Dave whines, “Like, more than fucking usual. He hit me.”
“You were in a strife. Of course he hit you.” The answer does nothing to ease your frustration, and you cross your arms.
Dave sighs, perhaps in frustration, and takes his hand off of his sword to try and fix his dirty hair. “No, after the strife. It really fucking hurts.”
Of course it hurts. Hitting is supposed to hurt. How else does one toughen up? “Yes, well, when one human hits another human’s skin, it does, indeed, tend to fucking hurt.”
Dave shakes his head, emotion hiding behind his gifted shades, and keeps pawing at his wound.
It makes you a little frustrated. Maybe more than that. Bro is supposed to toughen you and Dave up. Train you. What makes this time different? Why, now, is Dave suddenly projecting his thoughts like this?
“You wouldn’t understand, Rose,” Dave huffs, “You’re so annoying your brain wouldn’t be able to comprehend what I feel. It’d be like a snail trying to understand what a dolphin thinks. Of course, the snail wouldn’t even be able to comprehend it, it’d probably just fucking blow up while trying, y’know?”
You roll your eyes. In a way, you’re probably lucky Dave is breaking his schedule today, because otherwise he’d probably be able to dish out worse insults.
You remember an insult Bro used against you, once, and decide to use it against Dave, now.
“God, you’re such a fucking pussy,” You hiss, “So what he hit you? He hits us everyday, to make us tougher. It’s normal. What’s so different this time?”
Dave scowls at you, and you brace yourself, fully expecting a string of insults that would actually be able to make you feel something. Instead, he stomps away in the direction of his room. You figure he probably just wanted attention. Good. He got it. Just not in the way he was probably expecting.
Waiting for another moment in the small kitchen, you begin to head back to your own room. Bro doesn’t normally demand that you strife him for your own good until sometime after noon, though the exact time changes with every demand. You figure you’d spend what time you do have in the one place where you actually feel safe.
You make it back to your room, flinching ever so slightly as the door creaks, and sigh with relief as you fully enter your somewhat safe haven. You flop back onto your bed, pondering over whether or not to pester Jade or John.
Nah. You don’t really feel like it.
You don’t even feel like going to greet the crows, really. Even though you can hear them tapping on the window, there’s just something about today that’s starting to get to you. There’s just something about today that makes you want to stay in bed, though you know you can’t. That wouldn’t be right. Bro wouldn’t like that.
Humming to yourself, you try to think of productive ideas. You could try and get something to eat, but then you’d probably have to face some of Bro’s kind games. Maybe you could go to the roof and look out onto the horizon dramatically. Or you could annoy Dave.
You decide to annoy Dave, because annoying Dave is a great, productive idea. Just the thought of annoying him with makes you feel like actually doing something.
You roll out of bed, landing on your feet because you’re not a klutz, and check the door this time before safety exiting. The first thing you notice is how quiet the house has become. Bro is normally quiet, so it’s not surprising for him not to be heard, but Dave tends to be somewhat noisy, with all of his shitty music.
You can’t even hear him playing video games, which is strange, because he has quite a few that you bought yet Bro decided to gift to Dave because of certain misbehaviours, and Dave normally uses every chance he gets to show off that he has them now.
You feel your lips twitch into a frown, because all you can hear is the sound of your own quickly beating heart in your head.
You quietly slink over to Dave’s door, and even though the door is still open, you knock, just to let Dave know that it isn’t Bro (he doesn’t bother knocking if he needs anything).
It’s here that you here the first sound that isn’t you - a small sniffle.
Seeing as he hasn’t told you to go away, you begin to push open the door slowly, ready to spring away if Dave decides to throw a pillow at you. Fortunately, he doesn’t, and you peek into the room, ready to think of ways to annoy him.
You can’t think of ways to annoy him, because he’s actually hugging his knees on his bed, cradling his cheek with a hand, probably trying not to cry. You want to sneer at him - tell him he’s weak, like Bro would want you to, but instead you feel…
Dave mustn’t have heard you come in, because when he looks at you, his eyebrows raise, and his jaw opens slightly. He slides off his bed quickly, clearly struggling for words. He’s like a deer caught in headlights (which leads you to wonder whether the car is you, or Bro).
You wonder what his expression would be if his shades were off.
You seem to scramble for the right words first, because your words manage to escape before Dave can think of an excuse.
“He actually hurt you, didn’t he?”
Your words come out a lot softer than you wanted, though hopefully Dave can’t pick up on your concern. He seems to think for a moment, then relaxes, because you’ve given him something that he can use to form a retort with.
“Yeah, it hurts like a bitch,” Dave’s words come out monotone, yet you know that he’s probably angry. “And it hurts even more in your presence. Thanks.”
You know what comes next. He begins to go on a rant about how it hurts and how it hurts even more now that you’re here, swearing at least once every two sentences, yet strangely, he doesn’t mention Bro.
You’ve heard Dave go on rants before, so you know what to expect, but this time you notice the slight croakiness in his voice. You almost forget to listen to his rant when you notice.
When Dave finally finishes, he looks at you, smirking to himself, probably thinking that you won’t be able to argue with him. You can’t. Not because his rant was good, you tell yourself, but because you’re actually concerned.
“Dude,” You pause for a moment, thinking of what to say. Dave makes a small hand gesture for you to continue with the sentence.
So you do, and it’s not what he probably expected.
“Do you want me to get some apple juice for you?” The offer comes out quickly, so you can retract it just as fast if you begin to regret it.
Dave makes a small, shaky sigh. That response wasn’t exactly what you expected. You expected him to snap at you, to say he could get it himself, to say that he didn’t need help.
“Sorry, I need you to speak in actual words here,” You cross your arms, “Do you want me to get some or not?”
Dave waits another moment, and then, to your relief, his answer is short and clear.
“Yeah.” He pauses, then adds, “Thanks.”
You really fucking wish you could see under those shades.
Giving Dave a small thumbs-up, you slink away from him, and into the puppet-infested house.
Almost immediately you feel a shiver down your spine. You feel like you’re being watched. Nevertheless, the feeling doesn’t stop you from your mission as you begin to creep over to the fridge.
You think you hear something above you.
You stiffen, but don’t look up. You’re not sure what it was - a shuffling? After a few moments of listening, you decide that it was probably nothing to worry about and continue.
The sound doesn’t return until you make it to the fridge, but even then, though part of you seems to be screaming at the rest of you to just look up, but you don’t. It’s probably just one of Bro’s mind games, and you know better than to give in to those.
You open the fridge door slowly - you’re almost expecting something to jump out at you. Fortunately, nothing does, but you do notice that the apple juice has almost been barricaded by other kinds of food.
You can’t move the other food away, or risk causing it all to fall down, but you can just reach over and grab some apple juice. Yet, just to make sure…
You grab a spoon, and then reach over to the apple juice. You tap the spaces of the fridge just around the apple juice - parts of the fridge that you would only be able to see if you put your head in, and you’re not dumb enough to do that.
Suddenly, there’s a loud snap.
You flinch away, almost hitting the other food as you do so, and withdraw the spoon. It’s a mouse trap. You have to take a moment to readjust your shitty shades, then inspect it closely. It’s just a regular mouse trap, except you suppose it was supposed to catch Dave’s hand if it slipped down beside the juice. There seems to be some writing on the bottom.
Guess it was intended for you, then?
You move to put the trapped spoon onto the kitchen bench, but now it seems that you have an audience. Sitting on the bench, in all of his glory, is Lil’ Cal. He never spooked you as much as he spooked Dave, but it’s still unsettling, because you’re sure that he definitely wasn’t there before,
and that he seems to be watching you.
You quickly obtain another, untrapped spoon, eager to pretend that the puppet isn’t there, and check the fridge for more traps. There don’t seem to be any more, which is nice of Bro.
Content, you put the spoon away, and grab a bottle of apple juice. You’d say something like ‘mission accomplished’, but there’s still the way back to Dave’s room that you have to travel. Anything could happen in that time.
Juice in hand, you begin to slink back to Dave’s room. You hear a few sounds, this time coming from behind you, yet you’re able to swallow the urge to turn around.
When you get to Dave’s door, you lightly kick it open. Dave, upon seeing you, seems to perk up immediately (though, it’s probably just because you have the juice).
You notice how he’s taken his hand away from his cheek, exposing an angry red mark that might turn into a bruise. It’s very big, and in the back of your mind you wonder if Bro actually punched him.
“You got the juice,” Dave observes as you sit next to him on his bed.
“I got the juice,” You confirm, handing him it. “It wasn’t that hard. There was a mouse trap next to the juice, though, that was apparently left for me.”
Dave makes a small noise of approval, then quickly begins to drink the juice, seemingly happy.
You feel like smiling. Actually, genuinely, smiling. That hasn’t happened in a long time.
“So, Rose,” Dave takes his attention away from the juice, “Do you want to, I dunno, play some videogames with me or some shit?”
Your answer is short and clear. “I think I’d like that.”
Dave, satisfied with your answer, continues to drink the juice, definitely happier.
You are also happier, you think, though your gaze wanders to Dave’s now open door. You can see Lil’ Cal out there, sitting on the floor, watching you.
Though he’s not the only one watching you, it seems, because in the shadows of the house, you swear you see shades glinting.