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All The Little Things

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The fading glimmer of your ceiling stars cast a soft eerie glow against your monitor, dueling shades of varying reds and greens in sickening hues reflected back at you and you frowned at the design. Someone must have been high if they thought this jumbled combo of colors were complimentary to one another. With a derisive grunt, you leaned back in your desk chair and stretched your spine, not bothering to glance at the clock. Time had no meaning when you were working. Ear buds jammed uncomfortably into your ears, you hummed along with the current song on your playlist, a mishmash of genres you slapped together and labeled a cheerful, Keep Fucking Working Dumbass.

You adjusted your chair and scooted forward until the arm rests bumped against your desk and you picked up your stylus pen from its cradle. Tapping the end a few times, you studied the mess of a sketch in front of you before bringing your pen up and ignored the umpteenth yawn that traitorously slipped from your mouth.

You never did properly get back to bed after your partner dropped by for the weekend. It was a rarity to see them and you made sure to spend an ample amount of time with them. But, after falling asleep, you were still antsy, mind drifting to your various projects and the ludicrous deadline hovering over you. So you slipped away to your office to whittle away the time you should have been snuggling. Said office was the second bedroom of your apartment you had transformed into a semi work area. It doubled as junk room, art room, storage and whatever else you deemed necessary.

Taking a sip of your cold coffee, you flicked your tongue against your bottom teeth and thought about getting up to get yourself a new cup. Instead, you continued sketching, trying to make rhyme and reason out of the preliminary sketches you’d been sent. This was why you hated working off other people’s work. You couldn’t decide if you were looking at a third leg or someone was really overcompensating. Tilting your head, scrutinizing the shaky lines, you decided overcompensating.

Music blaring in your ears, you didn’t hear the faint ringtone that drifted from your bedroom. You had closed the door behind you in an effort to not wake your partner as you slunk off to make a pot of coffee and meander to your office in rumpled bedclothes and one of your favorite hoodies. If you had been more aware of your surroundings, you’d have heard your partner get up.

Brushing the sleep from her eyes, Jae squinted at her overly bright phone to check the time, the conversation still lingering in her sleep addled memory. She had been awoken, much too early and in her desire to go back to bed, had reached out for you only to find a cold, empty bed. Of course. With a light, amused roll of her eyes she wandered out of the bedroom in search of you. Your closed office door was her hint and instead of directly heading down the hall, she slipped off to the kitchen. The strong aroma of coffee helped perk her up as she poured a cup before filling the kettle you kept for her with water and set it on the stove to make tea.

“If you want to be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.” Rocking your nineties vibe, you missed your name being called in increasing exasperation, bobbing your head in time to your music and reached for your coffee cup without looking. Your fingers brushed against your paint cup, mistakenly grabbing the nearly identical mug. You brought it to your mouth only to have warm fingers press against your lips, halting the cup’s progress. The ear buds were gently tugged out of your ears and you look up surprised to have a quick kiss stolen from you. You melted under the sweetness, smiling against the mouth pressed lightly to yours and Jae lingered before straightening as you give her a goofy grin.

“Morning, babe.”

“It’s four in the morning.” Your partner tugged the paint mug from of your hand and set it down, pushing it toward your pile of dried out paintbrushes and gel pens.

“Still morning?” You tried to counter. Jae pressed the cup of coffee into your empty hands. “Aww, you treat me so fine.”

She gave an amused huff, drawing fingers through your hair and pushed back a faded green lock, tucking it over an ear. “One of these times I’ll let you drink from the paint cup.”

You batted your lashes and took a sip, humming appreciatively. “Then my insides will match my outward beauty.”

“Mmm yes, nothing says beautiful like lead poisoning.”

“This ain’t the nineteen forties,” you scoffed, trying to hide your growing smile as the fingers continued to play with your hair, nearly purring at the calming effect it had.

You and Jae had been together for almost three years, though the actual time you spent in each other’s company tallied up to far, far less. Just the deigns of life and your vastly different jobs kept you apart. Your partner was a senior executive consultant who traveled a lot, spoke four languages and was an extremely worldly individual. You worked as a graphic designer for a small gaming company and lived a very cave troll like lifestyle. It was rare to see each other, but you cherished the time you had together. She was also a great deal older than you, old enough to make occasional friend and rude stranger loft their eyebrow at, but decades meant nothing. You were both consenting adults and enjoyed each other.

You hugged the coffee cup close to you, leaching the warmth from it as Jae’s hands migrated from your head to your shoulders, kneading the tense sore muscles you always got from sitting hunched at your desk. You should have stood and stretched an hour ago but that would require actually moving and you were not about that right now. Dropping your head, you rolled your neck. “What are you doing up?”

Jae looked down at you, a sleepy smile catching the corners her mouth and you resisted the urge to draw your hand through the champagne blonde messy locks slipping from a messy updo. “I had the most amazing dream,” she hummed, smile lines deepening, “and I wanted to reenact it. But, oh dear, it seemed I was destined to wake up, cold and alone.” She paused and added in a deadpan tone. “Again.”

“Sorry, babe,” you returned apologetically, dragging your attention back to you work with an inward sigh. “I had to get some things done before I head into work later. Got that nasty deadline coming up Tuesday, and let me just say who the hell schedules a deadline on a Tuesday?” Switching your coffee for your stylus, you went back to staring at the scribbly art you were working on.

“What…?” You caught the hesitancy in your partner’s voice and cocked your head slightly to let them see your monitor better.

“Do you want the short or long version of it? Either way you’re going to come out more confused than how ya started. Believe me, I’ve been working on this project for months and I still don’t know what the hell it’s about.” You leaned forward and the light, tapping sounds of your pen filled the easy quiet before you continued sketching. Summarizing what you were drawing exactly took a little more work than you intended and you talked in broken, distracted fragments until the faint whistle of the kettle broke your train of thought.

Jae excused herself for a moment, taking the opportunity to escape the odd explanation of tentacles, space pirates and mechas, and you immediately lost yourself in the work. When Jae returned with a mug of tea, it took her resting her hand on your shoulder to draw your attention back to her.

“Huh, what?”

“I said,” she repeated with a wiry smile. “Preston called.”

“Oh?” You frowned at your screen, hating everything you’d done in the past hour and saved your work before flopping back to inwardly gripe at it, nearly losing your pen with your constant fiddling. You caught it before it could slip from your grasp and set it down in its dock. “What’d he want? I say as if I don’t know.”

“That I'm robbing the cradle and should be ashamed of myself.”

The snort of laughter that erupted from you hurt, but it was so worth it. “Jesus, Preston. Never change.” You sighed, slouching a little to glare at your screen. “What time is the manservant picking you up?”

You got a soft tap to your cheek, intended as a light chastisement but the warmth of the mug lingering in your partner’s palm only made you reflexively grin. “You know he hates it when you call him that.” Jae took a sip of her tea.

“In about an hour,” she answered, the fondness all but dropping from her tone. “Just enough time grab a shower and a nibble. I have to swing by the office to pick up some packets, pack a few things at the villa and then I’m leaving by noon.”

Maybe if you changed the design of the uniform a little bit and get rid of whatever you were trying to do in the top right corner. Your fingers itched to draw. “Where you going this time?”

“Rome apparently.”

You gave a low, appreciative whistle. “Nice. Pick me up a keychain or a tacky mug.”

“Dear.” You knew that tone and tipped your head up, resting elbows on your chair and swiveled slightly. Jae leaned against the desk, setting her cup down to look at you. “You know you can always come with me.”

It was a sweet gesture, one that you’d heard at least half a dozen times and would hear a dozen more. But, you couldn’t just up and drop everything for weeks at a time. “And lose out on this amazing apartment? Beside, how will I spend my time if I’m not locked away for days pinning for your return?”

The affectionate eye roll made you snicker and your partner twisted to pillage through your stack of bills that needed to be paid. “Rude.” Jae hummed at your accusation, shuffling through a few to set aside. “You know it’s a federal offense to look through someone else’s mail.”

“Uh huh.”

“No.”

“No, what?”

“I know what you’re thinking and no thanks. I got them handled.”

“How can I be a proper sugar mama if you wont let me take care of you?”

That got you to raise your eyebrows. Did your businesswoman mogul, occasional stick in the mud, partner just say what you think she said. “Did you just…”

The absolute pleased as punch look she gave you said yes, she did. Maybe your amazing humor were rubbing off on her. “I can make jokes, too.”

“So you’re saying I can waste my life lounging around in my underwear and eating chips?” You batted your lashes and clutched your hands over your heart.

“Don’t you do that anyways?”

“…Touché. And here I thought I could settle into the lap of luxury with a sweet piece of ass hanging off my arm.” The deserving flick to your head made you flinch. “Ow?”

Jae huffed and went back to riffling through the rest of your mail. You’d been meaning to get through and sort out the junk mail. You never seemed to quite get to it, resulting in the mini mountain of overflowing advertisements and credit card offers. It threatened to overtake the casual mess of your desk. A small, animated toy figure was slowly being nudged to the edge of a treacherous fall and you leaned over to push it back to the rest of the capsule toys you’d been hoarding. They were a mishmash of current anime trends, random mascots of Japanese brands and a very tiny squishie in a faintly phallic shape. Maybe you should probably clean up your art stuff, it’d give you more room to stretch out.

“I didn’t know you were thinking of adopting.”

Your knee jerk reaction had a half swallowed mouth of coffee splattered across your drawing screen and coughing painfully. “Shit,” you hissed when you finally got yourself under control, using the sleeve of your hoodie to mop up your mess. “What the actual hell, dude?”

Jae smirked and dangled a crumpled Bitty adoption flyer in front of your face. Eyes struggling to focus, you read over the text and relaxed, still not appreciating the teasing.

“Oh yeah, no. Hell no. They keep sending me shit in the mail ever since I volunteered at that shelter a while back.” It’d been a few years but the flyers hadn’t dwindled and you had to give them their tenacious props.

“Ah yes,” your partner replied, distractedly skimming the flyer’s contents. “The mandatory volunteered hours for, what was it again? Punching your coworker?”

“In the ball sack,” you finished, smugly.

Jae clucked her tongue disapprovingly, glancing over the flyer.

“Dude had it coming,” you argued. “He hit his service dog and I don’t give two shits your reasoning. You hit an animal, you get hit in the junk. Thems the rules. I don’t make them, I just abide by them.”

The huff through her nose sounded only vaguely derisive to your ears. “You have such a way with words.”

“Regular Zig Ziglar, I am.”

“I never know if you’re being serious or not.”

“I think you know the answer to that.” You picked up your pen, determined to finish making the messy sketch a slightly less messy sketch.

“Speaking of service animals, have you ever…” She left the question open and that annoyed you even more than her outright asking. You knew she meant well, but it irked you all the same.

“Yep.” You had thought it. “and nope.” You didn’t need one. “I get by just fine on my own.” You didn’t miss the subtle eyebrow raise and tried to school your features. “Don’t do that. My folks do that and I can’t stand it. Just say what you want to say.”

Jae set down the flyer, a hand catching the back of your chair to stop you from swiveling in it and turned it till you faced her. “I worry about you sometimes, my angry little, green haired artist.”

You desperately tried to keep from smiling because that would mean you were losing this argument.

“You live alone,” she continued. “and what if something happened and I’m not here? Can I not worry about my loved ones?”

You were not losing.

“And if not, then maybe one of those monster creatures. Some are used just like service animals without the stigma.”

You gave a weakly annoyed sigh. “I get what you’re trying to say babe, but Bitties aren’t pets. They’re not even animals. They’re people, just like you and me and that’s hella weird.” You trailed fingers along your partner’s hand resting atop of your chair, tugging it down and Jae brushed her thumb across your cheek, taking the hint. “Like trying to adopt a baby only that baby has adult motor functions and a vocab that’ll rival my own.”

“I think a talking parrot could rival your vocabulary.”

“Oh, haha.” You pushed her hand away, feigning annoyance to cover up your actual irritation about the whole conversation. There was just too many things to be bothered by and way too early for it.

Jae leaned away from the desk and you assumed she was heading off to take a shower when she stepped around you, leaning down to draw her hands down your arms, thumbs rubbing small, soothing little circles as she leaned back to cup your face. You followed her gentle nudge until you were looking up at her smiling, gaze still sleepy. There was a faint trace of smudge mascara under one eye and a little bit of a stray shadow above the other and your heart skipped a beat when she leaned down to capture your mouth in a slow, languid kiss. She tasted like mint.

“So that dream you had?” You whispered the moment she broke the kiss, giving a quick wiggle of your brows.

“Oooo dear, seems I’ve forgotten it.” She teased, crossing her arms around your shoulders loosely and gently rocked. “I unfortunately have to get ready now and I’ve spent too much time fraternizing.” Jae stood up, arms dragging away and you missed the warmth. “And you have work to finish, so hop to it.”

“Yes ma’am!” Saluting with mock seriousness, you swiveled back to get to work as your partner headed out. Oh that’s right. You yelled over your shoulder, “B T dubs, if you’re going to eat my pop tarts, at least have the common decency to leave me one.”

Chapter Text

Running fingertips along the long since healed mark, the tiny skeleton traced the edges of the number carved and burned into his humerus. Chipped bone caught along the raised surface and he idly wondered if he had always been two jagged lines that met at a slanted point. Seven. That was his name, right? Sitting slouched against the cage, the Lil Bro tucked a thin leg up and the tattered black pants he wore felt grimy, rubbing uncomfortably against greyed unhealthy bones. It was only slightly better than the threadbare shirt covering his ribs. Holes big enough to blush at made it more it of a tank top than anything. At least he had a pair of shoes to call his own, mismatching and ill fitting, he made them work by stuffing bits of torn up newspaper into the toes. He’d worn them for so long, the soles of his feet were black.

Behind him without having to look, were a number of identical cages filled with old and new Bitties alike. One could always tell the new ones, they cried. Some quietly in fear, others wailed in the injustice of their capture, just barely overheard over the growing crowds in the next room over. There were cheers, wild and raving with the occasional jeer as a fight ring was set up for a new battle. Seasoned Bitties remained silent, sharing the camaraderie of solidarity while the occasional few taunted the new ones, slinging insults and slurs to mask their own dread.

It’d been his fifth day, night, he couldn’t tell anymore, in the warehouse. It stank of an enclosed space, of mildew and spores and small things that rotted in the corners unnoticed. A fetid smell that rivaled the staleness of dust in the air. The Lil Bro hunkered further into his meager clothing, no match against the decaying cold that burrowed its way into his bones. The boarded up windows did little to let light or warmth through.

To the far right a bitty, a Cherry by the sound of it, started crying. Big, heaving sobs that the Lil Bro felt in his chest. Someone yelled at him to shut up, making them cry even louder.

“hey?”

The Bro swiveled his skull to look over at his next door neighbor and spotted a Button eyed Sans leaning against his own cage wall, back to him. He only recognized the other by the lopsided beanie he wore, a stupidly bright green color amidst the drabness.

“did you see the new guy?” He lofted a bandaged hand toward the lone cage that had been singled out on a different table and the Bro’s faded eye lights followed to where he pointed. He stared numbly for a moment before grunting. He didn’t care who it is. In the end it didn’t matter. His hands trembled. It never mattered.

Buttons kept talking, droning on about the sequestered Bitty in a cordial tone that felt out of place. Cujo. He recognized the name and rep, a real monster. Bitty Killer. The Bro glanced at the cage, keeping his head bowed and could just see the shape of the Horror Bitty as he stalked quietly. A single deep red eye light bobbed back and forth, eyeing cages as if they held his next meal. He looked feral, half starved, just like the rest of them.

The Cherry persisted in his sobbing, even as the heckling and name calling petered out and the Bitties voice was strained, gasping for air to cry. The Bro sighed before reaching above his head to pull himself up, tottering slightly to walk over to the other side of the cage. He had to keep hunched to avoid his head catching along the low grating, but he’d always been a little taller than the average Bro. The Cherry was a ways away but not so far he had to shout. Good. He didn’t like shouting.

Grabbing the other’s attention took little more than a hand wave and he watched the small skeleton shrink down. The Bro cleared his throat, rough from disuse and he croaked out a, “hey.” and tried not to wince at the foreign sound of his own voice. He tried for soothing but it only sounded strained in his ears. “what did the fish say to the whale? quit your blubbering.” The joke fell flat and he sighed, slumping a little. He slipped fingers around one of the cage’s bars, tightening until his knuckles ached. “crying makes you weak here, kindness makes you weaker, you gotta toughen up or you’re dust.”

Slowly the crying quieted, stiffled behind hands as the small Bitty tried to muffle himself, nodding through tears. That was as good as it was going to get with a Cherry. It’d have to do.

At the far end of the room, the faint click of a key in a lock silenced the entire floor, a dreadful hush falling across the cages in a thick wave before the door opened with a resounding bang. Owners filtered in, humans moving as one as they stalked cages, looking for theirs and laughed amongst themselves. Side wages were made, money exchanged under the table before the crowds could get their claws into them. They broke away, separating Bitties from cages. There was a scream, a snarl, arguing but even the strongest was nothing compared to a human. Like pilfering goods at a market, monsters were gathered up for the next round.

The Cherry was scooped up, having had to have been shaken out of his cage and he clung to the dirty fingers that squeezed him too tightly. He locked eyes with the Bro, desperation welling up in his sockets but he remained silent as he was hauled away. The humans left in the same fashion as they entered, moving as one like a pack until the room was silent again. Selfishly, the Bro was thankful he didn’t have to go up against the Cherry and slumped back down.

It was a short round and all too soon, humans flooded the room again. A craggy looking man with gaunt features and dirty brown hair grabbed the Bro’s cage and lofted it to bring it upward to face him. The Bitty clung to the walls, jamming a heel into the floor to keep from sliding any closer to the human. He coughed, breath foul and sprayed spittle everywhere.

“Knock ‘em dead,” he snarled. “Or I knock you. Get it?”

Curling away, the Bro tried to squeeze himself into a ball. “crystal clear.”

“Good.”

The cage was hauled, Bitty and all out the door and the Bro tried to look behind him at who was being coerced out of their own cages but it was too late as he was taken through the door and lead down a narrow hall. There was no gentle carefree walk for him. Not a Bitty. They were treated worse than animals. First hand the Bitty knew humans didn’t see them as anything. When they died, they were nothing but a pile of dusty clothes. Even an animal you’d have to eventually bury.

The Bro gripped the cage harder as it was swung around and he caught glimpses of the open warehouse, of the different fight rings set up. They were little more than bigger cages cobbled together from chicken wire, pallets and random pieces of wood pried from walls. The only addition that had been made were the magic disruptors run by spare car batteries. He didn’t know how it affected magic, he’d only ever heard about it in passing and couldn’t grasp the large technical jargon the humans used. He only understood when he couldn’t use his abilities to take a short cut, his own magic weakened to a pitiful response. People milled around different rings like drunken gods, yelling and screaming, pitting the smaller against one another gladiator style. Humans were awful.

The Bro’s world turned sideways as he was unceremoniously dumped out with a couple of harsh shakes. He dropped into the ring and stumbled a little, right leg giving some trouble but he was quick to mask it. He took a few flailing steps until he regained his balance and kicked up a dust of cloud. He tried not to breathe it in. The lights overhead were blinding, buzzing angrily and he had barely a moment to regroup and figure out what he was up against before he was ducking a wild swing. He nearly went down as he scrambled away and whirled around to dodge another punch.

It was a free for all fight. Bodies swarmed around him, moving too quickly to get a good bead on everyone. Cujo was apart of the brawl and dashed across the ring, lumbering after a small bitty in a feral lop. He howled as the gap was closed. A Boss Bitty who was currently trying to knock his skull off kept moving in a circle and hunkered low to keep his one functioning eye light from being a blind spot. Buttons, shit, Buttons was there too.

The Bro locked eyes with him and nodded quickly before he had to dodge another attack from the Boss. Sidestepping the taller monster, he swept to the right, spinning in the dust to sweep under a swinging fist and booked it toward Buttons. The Boss gave chase, silent and predatory before Cujo appeared, screaming wildly to tackle the Boss from the side. They went down quickly in a snarling heap.

An argument broke out amongst the owners, distracted from the Bitty fight as more attention was drawn to the three men. One jutted a hand in the other’s face, only for it to be slapped away. A third, an obvious friend of the first, shoved the second, knocking him into a woman. She stumbled into the caged dome, sending dirt and dust raining down on the little monsters below.

“we gotta get out of here!” Buttons offered an arm for the Bro as he lurched to a stop, limping on his right leg. He jerked back at the hand before realizing it was offered out of trust than malice but before he could take it, a scream of utter rage echoed behind them. They turned to see Cujo sink his fangs into the Boss’ neck, claws tearing into bone and ripping at the cervical spine.

The Bro felt his soul seize at the gush of marrow that stained the dirt floor and he stopped just shy of clawing at his own sternum. “and do what?”

Buttons shot the taller Bitty a confused look. “do what? live, be free! what the hell do you think?!”

The arguing escalated above them and more monsters were dumped into the ring by the handfuls, some confused and darted away while the rest rounded on each other. Buttons pulled the Bro to him as a Grimby went wild, setting fire to anyone he could reach, resulting in the smaller to smack at his arm to put out the small flicker of flames along his sleeve. That’d been close.

Several owners were not pleased with the additions and the dispute erupted into an actual fight. A large human was tossed against the cage and it sagged under his weight, the cheap metal creaking and buckling under the strain. The Grimby wasted no time in setting the man’s clothes on fire. People were already trying to back away from the growing fight. A woman shrieked above the building sounds of an agitated crowd, jarring the Bro. He grabbed Buttons and hauled him backwards away from the fire, the act an unspoken thanks for saving him earlier. The sentiment was appreciated even as the Bitty watched the Bro struggle to stand, a hand pressed to his chest.

Rising to his feet, Cujo attacked a passing by Bitty, tearing into his newest prey with gusto, seemingly oblivious to what was going on.

There was a sharp throbbing behind his ribs where his soul pulsed, the pain feeling like it was a struggle to breath and the Bro gasped against the numbness and he spat out through gritted teeth. “what makes you think it’s better out there than in here?”

“you can’t be serious?” Buttons rounded on the Bro, disbelief simmering in the glossy buttons that made up his eyes and he shoved the taller, venting frustration in the same manner as the humans. The Bro winched and Buttons mentally kicked himself. “i would rather die than stay here another day.” He sighed, trying to keep himself centered. “come on, we gotta look for a way out while we still got the chance.” Without waiting for a reply, Buttons took off in a direction, darting close to where the Grimby was still enjoying his fiery escapade.

The stabbing pressure only increased as the Bro could only stare blankly after where the other had gone. He hated this, hated when his body shut down and he wasn’t sure how long he stood there in open before he was driven to the floor by a body. He hit the ground hard, smashing his chin on the floor as he tried to catch himself. A knee went to his back, weighing him down as Cujo climbed atop of him, pinning him with a well placed hand to the back of his neck. He leaned down, smelling of dust and marrow to whisper against his skull.

“do ya want to be mine, tall one?”

The Bro tried not to shudder against the raspy voice, as he struggled against the added weight. Cujo may have been smaller than him, but he was a lot heavier, bones just as grey but healthy. It felt like a damn elephant was sitting on him.

“i can make ya mine and ya wouldn’t have to fight no more.” Cujo leaned down to lick a stripe up his prey’s skull and wheezed out a rough cruel chuckle. “would ya like that? would ya like to be mine to claim.” He laughed again, tipping his head and the Bro could hear something rattling around in the Bitty’s broken skull. With a deliberate slowness, the Horror monster rocked against him and dragged his pelvis against the enticing clothed tailbone.

get off me, you fucker!” The Bro renewed his struggling, phalanges grasped at the ground in front of him for purchase. The sharp pain was threatening to tear his ribs apart and he shuddered, trying not to suck in a lungful of dust. He tried to head butt the bitty backwards and his skull was shoved harshly to the floor, claws scraping the curve of it.

“i like it when your feisty.” With one hand on the Bro’s skull, pressing down with his full weight his other groped along the lower section of spine exposed in his struggling, running a clawed thumb down the notches and felt the minute shiver run through the body. Grinning, he pressed harder, digging sharply into the vertebrae and earned a beautiful scream from the monster beneath him as he struggled more. Cujo cackled, holding on to his bucking bronco, drawings his knees inward to keep the other at his mercy.

It was an awful, burning, piercing pain that stole his breath away and his entire lower half felt suddenly numb. He could only stare in frozen horror at the jagged, bleeding piece of lower rib the monster had torn it from him, was flung it in front of him like a piece of trash. The Bro could only stare at the bone as it crumbled into dust.

Cujo dragged his fingers through his mouth, eye light fluttering up in ecstasy. “you taste divine, tall one. i will enjoy you until you break.”

“get off him!” Buttons slammed into the Horror bitty, knocking him off the Bro and they tumbled across the open ground, limbs flailing

Chapter Text

The Lil Bro couldn’t tell if he was getting any air into him, magic stagnating around the agony of his spine. He dragged an arm under him, propping himself up on an elbow as he tried to roll to his back. His vision waned briefly, darkening as a cold chill ran through him as he fought against the darkness creeping into his vision. The first splat of water atop his skull went unnoticed even as it threatened to drown him and the world came back into a sharp focus. More water fell from above from the rusted sprinkler system that had been set off. A firm alarm screamed overhead, dully muted in pulsing waves. He wheezed for air, the sound whistling through an open mouth. People were quick to scatter, no one wanting to get caught if the police showed.

The Bro focused on getting up and braved a moment to reach underneath him, feeling the warmth of his marrow and the fighting ring swayed and tilted. Buttons screamed and it was a terrible sound, high pitched and full of pain when the Horror Bitty bit his hand, taking two fingers with a gurgled laugh. Making it to his knees felt like it took forever, his body alternating between freezing and burning hot and felt marrow seep into his dirty clothes. His soul pulsated in an odd off beat tempo in his skull, making it difficult to concentrate, another scream the only thing keeping him grounded.

He tried to conjure a construct and the brief outline of a bone flickered faintly before wisping out. He tried again, stumbling as his magic sparked painfully. “come on, come on,” he desperately wheezed, finding his footing.

Cujo cackled victoriously, shades of marrow and blood splattered around his muzzle, staining filthy teeth. The single red eye light narrowed into a pinprick of color, wavering in the large socket as he bite down on the Button’s face, gnawing at the smooth rounded jaw. He leaned up to avoid a weak punch and got the sharp end of a blue bone construct through the bottom of his mandible, coming up through the non working socket. His eye light guttered out and gave a soft gasp of laughter before he crumbled into dust.

Buttons gagged on the downpour of dust falling into his mouth, sockets and nasal cavity. Clothing pillowed atop of him, weighing heavy and the bitty grasped at the object that had been lodged inside the Horror’s head. A small, silver key. Ignoring his injuries, he grabbed the key with his good hand and struggled to sit up just as the Lil Bro staggered to him.

The Grimby wailed in agony as he lay dying, his flames demolished by the sprinklers and slowly he crumbled into ashes, clawing at his face. The Boss Bitty was still alive, gasping wetly with a spine nearly severed, one arm missing at the elbow. They had lost track of the others.

Helping the smaller monster up with a grunt, the key was shoved into the Bro’s hands and he stared at it, uncomprehending.

“go on,” Buttons panted, tucking his injured hand to his side, “i think it might be for the cage. i’ll get the boss.”

are you crazy?” Was that really him saying that out loud? “forget him.” That wasn’t something he would have said at all. It sounded like him but why was it so far away?

“no!” Buttons spat and pushed the Bro toward a nearby door. He faltered and caught himself before he could hit the ground and hesitated forward, arms curled protectively around the key. The smaller Bitty observed the swaying gait and ignored the blush of marrow that stained his palm. “you get that door open,” he commanded, “and you go.” Buttons stumbled in the direction of the boss, knowing there was nothing he could for the Grimby.

Fumbling with the key, the Lil Bro nearly dropped it as he sagged against a wire mesh door and sucked in a rough lungful of burning air. The ingenuity of the humans recycling old cages meant one key for everything, including the odd placement of doors. There was no way he or Buttons could climb the collapsing structure to the ceiling where they’d been dropped in. How the Horror Bitty even had the key in the first place proved he was just as smart as he was mad. He felt so little about the death of the bitty and there was an emptiness in place of feeling anything that he’d grown accustomed to.

Squeezing his arm through the grating, he felt for the lock and shoved the key into it. He tried to turn it and his hand slipped, jerking him hard into the mesh and his spine screamed back at him. He rasped through several breaths, waiting for the pain to subside. Woozily he tried again, pushing then tugging, trying to get the stubborn rusted metal to move.

The air had grown thicker with smoke, an acrid smell that overwhelmed the stagnate. The simple fire had spread to what the warehouse had been originally used for, devouring the stacked pallets and wooden crates of spoiled materials. They crackled and hissed, burning under the pitiful excuse of sprinkler system.

It was taking an agonizingly long time for Buttons to return and the Bro wished he was here now helping. His strength was leaching out of him in time to the sticky pulse of marrow and he clung to the mesh as his legs trembled with the effort of standing. He had one last try in him and shoved with a grunt nearly pitching forward when the key twisted in the lock. The door creaked open an inch before sticking. Freedom loomed drunkenly in the small space.

Hanging on the cage, he lofted an arm toward Buttons who reappeared, empty handed and coughing. He collapsed to his knees and The Bro lurched forward instinctively. “come on!”

Metal lurched above them, screeching painfully and both looked up to see one of the shoddily soldered support beams, made weaker by the fire and the bodies that had crushed it come loose. It caught on a wooden plank before it could come down. Scuffed black button eyes snapped to the Bro ambling toward him, hand outstretched. The burning wood gave, ambers rained down and the small bitty gave a wavering grin.

The structure collapsed in an awful wounded groan that shook the ground, burying Buttons under a pile of blackened timber and forcing the Bro to reel back to avoid being caught in the cave in. Disbelief roared in his skull and he crumpled jarring his spine as his tailbone met the ground with a heavy thump. The cage curved inward slowly, being dragged down by the heavy top and the support beams shifted further. The Bro stared at the rubble where the closest monster one could ever consider a friend in their world had been.

A deep ache settled in the middle of his chest, growing tighter until he forced himself to breath and his breath hitched on a dry sob. stupid idiot. Tears burned his sockets, agitated by the smoke. why did you go back. He brought his fist up to brush at his cheek, unable to look away from the smoldering pile. Ash tumbled toward him, barely registering the uncomfortable warmth and heady air.

There wasn’t anyone left in the ring with him. It was pointless, useless, what would he even do once he got out. He’d have sat there, waiting for the rest of the small world to come down around him but the snap of newly dislodged wood came down, flaring up embers as big as him and he scrambled backwards to avoid being burned.

Funny how self preservation worked like that.

Drawing a knee up, he numbly crawled a step and grasped at the ground, pulling himself toward the door. He dragged his other knee forward, the limb not quite keeping up and shoved himself to his feet. That was a little better and he swayed a step before taking another, then one more until he was squeezing sideways through the doorway.

i’m sorry.

As thin as he was, it took a little work to slip through and caught the ragged end of his bottom rib along it before he was free. Standing on the outside of the ring, the magic dampeners still clawing at his back he took a step forward and realized, he still needed to get out of the warehouse. Luckily for him, the humans had left a wide open berth to a large open doorway that lead to the outside world. It gaped like a dark open maw and the Bro grasped that it was night time.

Pressing a hand uselessly to his side, the Bro forced himself on and took a lurching step toward the exit. He could feel his magic bleeding back into him and the sudden rush left him dizzy, almost giddy at the swell of it. It allowed him to pick his feet up better and he was moving until all he could hear was the frantic clap of his shoes on the ground. The Bro short-cutted before he could wonder if he had the energy. The outside world swallowed him up as he ran, dashing across an open parking lot, unaware of anything around as he jumped again, landing in a patch of dried weeds.

It was agony, he couldn’t remember how far he’d run, single minded perusing a straight line away from the horrifying world he’d been forced to live. The Bro staggered, struggling to keep going but the pain slowed him down more and more. Buildings too big to decipher towered over him like hulking giants and he was sure he crossed at least three busy intersections where cars threatened to run him over. His limp had become more pronounced until it felt like he was dragging a weight behind him. His spine and ribs were on constant fire, each breath felt like it might be his last and he couldn’t tell it was his dust that sifted from his clothes or from the fire.

He had to stop.

Hauling himself over a broken curb, he sought out shelter in the nearest alley, bypassing the large trash receptacles and made him way toward the back before collapsing atop of a soggy pile of newspaper. He couldn’t move anymore, not even if his owner found him. Forcing another lungful of air into him, the smeared printed text swayed as he jammed an elbow under him before the world went back.

Chapter Text

“hey, wake up asshole.”

With a painful groan, the Lil Bro roused with the greatest of difficulties, finding himself laying face down on an old, soggy newspaper. He struggled for purchase, his hand sliding along the wet paper as it peeled and bunched under the slightest pressure. Faint ink stuck to the side of his skull, claiming him ‘riginal evid’ and part of a blurred picture near his socket. Every little movement felt like glass was being jammed in his spine and he gasped sharply. His limbs shook with each new wave of pain as he struggled to stop moving and could feel the prickles of panic wanting to set it, but exhaustion won out.

Blearily, he tilted his head to the side, cheek resting uncomfortably against the newspaper and breathed in the rancid smell of decaying garbage and paper. Slowly, he became more aware of himself as a light shiver set in. He was soaked to the bone and cold and everything sucked.

“ya can’t stay here.”

He thought he’d dreamt the rough, deep gravel voice but heard it again from somewhere above him. Eye lights flickered with the effort to focus and could only make out blurry shapes as he painstakingly inched a hand in front of his face. The movement pulled at his spine and his arm went limp to avoid agitating it more.

“didja hear me?” The voice had moved, drifting from somewhere behind him, still out of his blurry field of vision. “beat it!”

can’t,” the Bro mumbled, voice raspy, weak and tired. “can’t…”

Skeletal feet wrapped in dirty linen stepped in front of him, sharpened toes just shy of gouging his eyes out at how close they were. The monster labored to look up at the splotch of white against bigger smears of black and grey. The thrum of magic, however, was clear as day. The aggressive intent behind it was enough for him to weakly claw at the newspaper, tearing little gouges on it even as it swelled up around him.

“this is my place!” The Bitty growled and straightened to his full height of three inches and glared at the idiot in front of him. He snarled, the sound low and deep as he proceeded to make as much racket as possible. He kicked a loose piece of trash, sending it satisfyingly across the ground skirting close to the Lil Bro. Broken glass surrounded them in shards and the small monster heaved a part of it, letting it clink like a broken chime as it skidded away.

The Edgy bristled, eye lights awash in ruddy magic as he summed a sharpened bone construct. “get the fuck out!” He grabbed at the prone monster, grabbing a fistful of shirt and it ripped under the pressure as he hauled the Bro upward, lifting his head and shoulders completely off the ground.

The monster shuddered under the sudden jolt, a sound of pain eking out and marrow stained fingers grasped feebly at the surprisingly small hand that held him up with little effort. Was this a child? He tried to talk and tasted dust as more sifted from his tattered shirt.

A deep rumble from far off startled the Edgy and he automatically lofted his head skyward at the sliver of grey sky overhead. He made a quiet, annoyed sound and spat to the side of him to express it further. The threadbare shirt he wore threatened to slip off his frame and he shrugged in it, the large neck catching on a shoulder. It had once been a pristine white, nearly blinding him with its newness. Now it was ill fitting, old, dirty and stained, hanging more like a dress to his knees due to mass he’d lost over time. He didn’t like the look of the darker clouds creeping slowly in from the west. Another annoyed huff left him and he looked down at the monster sagging in his grasp, realizing too late the darkened sockets and limp form meant the guy had passed out.

“oi!” When the monster didn’t reply, he grumbled out loud and gave another heavy shake, the Bro swaying in his grip. “stupid, fuckin’, ugh.” Dropping the monster, he shook out his cramped fingers and checked over his shoulder down the alley at the faint sound of cars driving by. People walked by occasionally but he had picked this particular alley as it was a dead end to an old, condemned building. No one ever came down here. Most of the time it was used as a dumping ground for tires and mattresses and the rare time the garbage collectors came, they never bothered with the main dumpster in the back.

Dropping to his haunches to crouch over the Lil bro, the Edgy bent to look over the idiot who’d been dumb enough to stumble into his alley. Resting elbows on knees, he maintained a respectable distance just in case and flipped the bone construct around to poke at the taller Bitty. He poked extra hard at his skull a few more times than necessary before sniffing. “ya smell like shit.”

Dissolving the construct to maintain his magic, he brushed his bare legs off and stood quickly as the second rumble of thunder rang closer. Without sparing a glance at the unconscious body at his feet, he stalked toward a growing pile of rotten trash bags, the smell long since tolerated. He climbed up and slid down the back of them to the concealed pile of cinderblocks and red cement bricks behind a large dumpster that was more rust than metal. The blocks had been leftovers from an attempt to revitalize the building and make something of the abandoned shop, but had fallen to the wayside once the money petered out.

Shoving aside the makeshift tent door fashioned from a popato chisp bag, twine and string from some old balloons, the Edgy climbed into the top hole. It was a tight fit but he made due, inseting an old sock to take some of the chill out of the brick and add a touch of softness as he settled down. It had been a lucky find; the current block he dwelled in had been mostly upright and resting against the haphazard pile of others. It’d taken a little ingenuity and every ounce of his strength to get it upright. It was dark inside, the back partially blocked by other bricks leaving just enough space to squeeze out in case of trouble.

Huddling in a ball, he tucked his legs into his shirt and wrapped his arms around himself. It was starting to get cold again; more so at night and there was a nasty wind already picking up through the alley. It wasn’t exactly an ideal place, but it kept him safe and secure and most importantly out of the way. Another rumble of thunder, even closer tumbled through the air followed a short while later by a flash of lightning that lit up the darker, backward wording of the chisp bag. If he were lucky, it’d be another flash flood and wash that asshole out of his alley.

He griped inwardly. Why the fuck should he care? It was just another fucking Bitty. The guy looked like he was on the edge of dusting anyway. The Edgy huffed. He didn’t want anyone lurking in on his territory anyway. This was his place, fair and square; he claimed it and fought off alley cats and rats for his square of land. He earned every little battle scar and scratch and was proud of them all. He was tough as fuck and his will to live proved it. So what if the other Bitty didn’t have the will. Why should he help? What was in it for him?

The dull pitter-patter of rain atop of his cinderblock told him the rain had finally arrived. He curled further into a ball, pulling some of the sock around him to ward off the eminent cold and hunkered down for another quiet night. His stomach growled fiercely and he ignored the hollow gnaw of hunger. He’d look for food tomorrow.

The first odd noise had him tense and on high alert. His knees hit his chin as he sat up and scooted further back at the following dragging sound as something scrounged around. His magic fizzled, popping like candy rocks until he mentally got ahold of himself. Slowly, he stretched a leg out and crawled to his chisp bag door and peeked out to spot the Lil Bro on his hands and knees, dragging himself underneath the dumpster. It was a slow, painful, stuttering progress.

The Bro had woken up sputtering and choking when a big, fat raindrop nearly drowned him. He had flipped over to empty his skull of water, nearly seizing when his ribs moved against each other, rubbing wrongly at each hitched inhale and rough exhale. He knew they shouldn’t be doing that as he struggled to his knees and slowly crawled forward. By the grace of god, his spine felt numb and he was certain he could only move as much as he could due to the once sharp pain now lulled into a dull ache. He chuckled darkly, a wisp of air between teeth. Self-preservation was a bitch like that.

“yer not dust yet?” The Edgy scowled at the persistent fucker and looked around for anything to throw at him, coming up empty handed. The skull swiveled toward him, sockets unseeing. “pity.”

He might have laughed at the bodiless voice if he had the strength.

“ya smell like dust.”

Any pretense of amusement was gone and the Bro collapsed halfway under the dumpster, legs mercilessly pelted with more rain. This was it, as far as he could go. He was going to dust right here and now. Maybe, some of his dust would be washed away into the drains where he belonged.

“’m sorry buttons,” he whispered, as his soul grew heavy. “sorry…”

_________________________

He didn’t think he’d ever see the sun again and when pale eye lights flickered to existence, he stared confusedly at the grimy underside of the dumpster. Mottled green with shades of rust and debris, he wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking at. Something scuttled nearby, too many legs traipsing through trash and he felt something soft brush against his head, only realizing a second too late it was a large cockroach. Cold and numb, he couldn’t move as the feelers tickled over his skull.

“get outta here.” The Edgy’s voice barked from nearby and the insect scurried away. The Bitty grunted, scuffling noises drifted back and forth until there was a snap of something wooden. He tumbled to a knee and cursed loudly before grabbing the small transparent baggie full of odd and ends he’d collected and tugged it with him before where it snagged on the dumpster wheel could tear more.

A blurry off white shape filled the Lil Bro’s vision and he surmised it was the smaller Bitty standing over him.

The Edgy grunted. “yer awake.” Before the Bro could open his mouth, he barreled on, interrupting. “this don’t mean nuthin’, trash. ya were drawin’ in the bitch.” He grinned, a hazy jagged line. “alley cat, fat hag, hangs ‘round here a lot.”

t… tha… you.” The barely there words were whispered in a rough exhale. It felt like talking through rocks.

“don’t thank me,” the Edgy sneered. “i didn’t do nuthin’. i’d leftcha out there fer the bitch if it’d keep her off my back fer a night. here.” He stood to survey the area, short enough to stand under the dumpster without difficulties. “she can’t get ya, but damn,” he chuckled harshly. “did she try.”

The Bro shifted to look at him better, finding his hands and arms were a little less numb that he was awake and he wiggled fingers, ensuring he had all ten of them. They moved sluggishly. “i can’t feel my legs.”

“’cause ya ain’t got any.” There was a brief horrifying pause, then mean raucous laughter exploded from the bitty. “i’m fucking with ya, they’re still there, asshole.”

you’re kinda an asshole yourself.”

The Edgy had a snaggle tooth, enhancing the sudden shark grin. “ya gonna cry about it?”

Honestly, he felt like he should. He should be wailing at the top of his lungs, heaving big, dramatic breaths of air and emitting an unhealthy amount of snot. He had every justification for it but when he decided to, there was nothing but a blank numbness that pressed against his skull.

Watching the Bro scrunch his face up and then relax, he wasn’t sure how to react and the smaller bitty covered it up with a scoff. “whatever, i got shit ta do. if ya dust, can’t say it was nice knowin’ ya.”

“what’s your name?”

A subtle raise of his brow bone suggested the Bro caught him off guard with the simple question and the Edgy grinned tightly. “ain’t got one, don’t need one. don’t bother callin’ fer me. i ain’t yer mommy.”

does that mean,” he wheezed for enough air to talk. “i can call you daddy?”

The bitty gave another over exaggerated scoff, a faint stain of red touching his cheekbones before he stalked away. He stalked back a few steps to hurl a stuttered, “n-no!” before he was gone.

The Lil Bro cracked a faint smile and sighed slowly, pausing when his hand brushed against something and fingers touched something wet. A faint grimace surfaced as he dragged his hand toward his field of vision, the limb trembling as he lofted it to find phalanges covered in a moist tan cracker mush, a few flacks of salt clinging to it. Letting his skull fall to the side, he was gifted with the sight of a plastic bottle cap of relatively clean looking water beside him with half a cracker beside it.

Somewhere the Edgy was making a racket, having returned to whatever he was doing.

The cracker loomed next to him like fallen manna from the sky and it tugged at the hollowness of his stomach. He wanted to eat, but being awake this long had already zapped him of what little energy he clung to. Maybe, just maybe if he fell asleep, he could drift away. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Chapter Text

There was a thin line between awake and dreaming, and the world of nightmares made up the threshold. It was all too easy to lose track of time slipping between moments of restless sleep and jarring pain, never quite sure if he was still alive. What was once sharp and bristling agony had numbed itself into a quiet throb just on the border of being to ignore. The less he moved, the better it was. Some time during the night he developed a cough and tasted dust every time he wheezed. During a lucid moment, he found himself wrapped up in an old sock that smelled like death itself. It kept him warm when the rain picked back up during the early hours. At least he thought it was early, it was hard to tell when daylight came and went under a dumpster. As if it was possible, the Lil Bro felt worse, like death warmed over in a gross, sweaty sock. He tried not to think of the dust shifting in his clothes and whether it was his or the others. Instead, he focused on the other bitty. An Edgy, he figured, by personality alone. It was still hard to see anything unless it was standing right over him.

The Edgy had a penchant for starting fights and arguing, content to mumble to himself until he caught the Bro watching. Then he’d be in his face, childishly calling him names, telling him to mind his own business, to fuck off and a plethora of other colorful choice words. He’d always end it with physically threatening him, though he’d never actually laid a hand on him. The Edgy would storm off, leaving the Bro alone and feeling worse off than before.

He caught the Edgy staring the next day when he’d managed to fall asleep for a few minutes. It’d been a little awkward, red dots of light staring unblinking at him, it’d been the first time Bitty had given the Bro any sort of real attention. The pipsqueak (though he’d never actually him that to his face) stared a moment longer before standing. “yer were talkin’ in yer sleep.” He turned away, pausing mid step and looked out toward the pile of bricks. “callin’ out fer a buttons.”

Neither talked to each other for the rest of the day.

Rain was quick to return, making it even harder to decipher time when it was consistently grey. The small puddles that had formed over the uneven cement grew bigger, shrinking his little island of dry cement. A shadow loomed just at the edge of the Bro’s hazy vision and craning his head up as far as the pain would allow, he caught sight of the Edgy sitting with his back to him with something in his hands. He stared at it unable to make out what exactly the contraption was.

what…” He winced, swallowing to alleviate the burning in his throat. “what are you doing?”

“nuthin’.”

It was a peaceful answer despite the growl attached to it and he left it alone to watch silently as the small monster used a sharpened bone construct like a blade, carving away at the stick of wood in his hands, adding notches at both ends. He dozed off somewhere in the middle when the Edgy tugged a thin, tan rubber band out from beside him, only to be awakened by a triumphed giggle. The sound was at odds with what he was staring at as the Edgy scrambled to his feet and held out his completed work.

The Bro wondered if he was still dreaming at the cobbled together weapon. What had previously been several matchsticks, a rubber band, thread and toothpicks had been transformed into a crude but very intimidating crossbow. Focused on his task, the Edgy bustled about, tucking the weapon into a space he’d cleared of trash, using the leverage of a crack in the cement to insert it into. He struggled with pulling back on the taunt rubber band, bare feet sliding roughly until he leaned back enough to catch it on a notch he’d carved out. It immediately snapped and nearly sent the Bitty forward before he could let go. He scowled and a smile twitched at the Bro’s mouth.

Undeterred, the Edgy rubbed his hands together to alleviate the sting and circled around his contraption once before nodding to himself. He disappeared, moving junk around until he came tumbling back, a bent paperclip in hand. Holding an edge down under foot, he tugged at the end to straighten it more or less back into it’s original shape. Once done, he weaved it around the rubber band until he created a handhold he could hold and tug the band back. Setting a notched toothpick into the top of it, he twisted the weapon until it was aimed at a lone cockroach that had been scuttling about nearby, drawn in by the soggy food that laid untouched next to the Bro.

Planting his feet squarely, the bitty pulled back on the rubber band and toothpick bolt, grunting quietly until he reached a point he couldn’t pull it back anymore and let go. Wood meet exoskeleton with a crunch and the cockroach went tumbling backwards, speared through. The laughter that exploded from the monster was nothing but jubilant as he pumped a fist into the air and turned around, only to meet the Bro’s gaze. Stiffening, he groused loudly, ducked his head and marched off.

____________________

 

The next rain spell brought in a torrent of water that crept further inland. The Bro stared at the dirty water as it lapped upward, driven in tiny increments as the storm raged overhead. He clutched at the sock, digging fingers into the old wool and nearly startled as a flash of lightening light up the underside of the dumpster and the small figure sitting beside him. He eyed his unusual companion and the Edgy shifted, huddling further into himself.

“gotta stay dry somewhere,” he grumbled to the unasked question that hung between them. The deep rumble of thunder made him wince as a second crack of lightening replied in quicker succession. He rubbed his clavicle, tugging the loose neck hole further up and rested arms on tucked up legs.

how…” The Bro started, a vain attempt to distract himself from the odd pain in his ribs and no amount of shifting would alleviate it. “how did you…. end up here?” Grumpy silence answered him and two more rounds of thunder and lightening filled the space between them before he realized he had to move on. “how’d you learn to make that thing?” That earned him a shrug. With a sigh, the Bro gave up and stared at the gross ceiling overhead. He didn’t want to talk anyways.

The rhythmic drumming of raindrops on metal, cement and assorted trash lulled the Bro is a contemplative silence, sleep just out of reach. He was so damn tired, if he could just get some decent rest, he’d be able to dredge up a little energy to eat and heal. His sockets ached, his body ached, his soul ached. At least the bugs were staying away.

i didn’t know his name.” The Edgy shuffled in his spot but otherwise remained quiet. “i just called him buttons because of his eyes.” He frowned, squeezing his sockets closed to ease some of the pain in them. “what the hell,” he whispered, voice breaking in the harsh exhale that did nothing to soothe his soul. “why did you go back.” The Bro shuddered, magic burning in the back of his sockets, though he knew he didn’t have enough to actually cry. “humans suck.”

The smaller Bitty snorted. “yer tellin’ me.”

you should have let me dusted.” He stated offhandedly, the finality of his tone causing the other to look his way.

The Edgy grunted. “don’t know shit ‘bout ya. don’t care either. ya wanna dust? go ahead. aint no one gonna mourn ya.”

awww, not even you?”

“why? ya need someone to cry over yer dust ta make ya feel like ya meant somethin’?”

Kid came hard when he wanted. “you really are an asshole.”

“heh.” The harsh single laugh held little humor behind it.

____________________

 

 It was closer to night than day when an odd noise roused him from his light slumber. Something was slinking through the trash nearby, something a lot bigger than a Bitty. It moved quietly on padded feet, picking its way through old bottles, cans and spilled plastic trash bags of foulness until he could feel it crouching down at the edge of the dumpster, eerie golden eyes staring at the back of his head. Each little movement was laborious under fresh pain and he could do little but squirm like an appetizing snack. Dragging one hand under him, the Bro attempted to sit up against the grinding protest of his spine when a familiar shout made his marrow chill.

The cat turned it’s attention from him to the Edgy as he hurled himself at the feline, a small bone construct raised in both hands. There was a terrible yowl and a snarling hiss before the Bitty yelled again, hurling insults as he rounded on the beast. Cans clinked together in an angry ruckus and a bottle smashed, sending slivers skidding toward the Bro and he shielded his face best he could. The upheaval continued, claws ripping through trash and the tiny patter of bare feet meeting each swipe. Blue magic surged upward and there was nothing the Lil Bro could do.

He struggled to summon a spec of his magic, orange flickering in little sparks at his fingertips and his head swam at the pull. If he had anything in stomach, it would have certainly joined the rest of the surrounding trash. His chest seized as his soul pulsed in response to the unconscious call for help even as the Edgy gave one last shout, voice edged in pain before silence filled the alley. There was nothing the Bro could do and a sob surged out of him in a choked exhale. The guy may have been a jerk but he didn’t deserve this.

The sudden looming fear of being alone with the cat still roaming around sent a shudder through him and he stilled at the first scuffle. Pain be damned, he’d meet his dusting head on and struggle to tip his head upwards to see the small body of his unlikely bunkmate making his way toward him. The Edgy collapsed next to him, face hidden in the dark, he dragged himself back to sit on his ankles and let out a quiet huff.

He held out a clump of fur, blood and marrow clinging to his arm in sticky trails from the ragged tear in his sleeve. “bitch wont come ‘round here no more.” His grin faltered before he slumped face down atop of the Bro.

Fear surged in an icy wave until he heard the faint snore and relief flooded the odd hollow left behind. Warmth seeped from the smaller bitty into him and the Bro did his best covering the monster with his sock. There was no way he could move the other off him and fought against the rawness of his throat, knowing a coughing fit would do him in. He gently probed around the bloodied arm but whatever injury he had sustained had already stopped bleeding. Not like there was anything he could do.

Settling down for another long night, the Bro took up his past hobby of making familiar shapes in the rust and steel of the underside of the dumpster. Somewhere during the night, the Edgy stirred and rolled over, curling himself further against the Bro and snuggled in. He mumbled, burying his cheek against ribs and the other tried not to wheeze. Instead, he used the temporary lapse to really get a good look at the Bitty.

He was surprisingly small, much smaller than a healthy Edgy should be. Not that he had ever really seen a healthy bitty in his life, but he couldn’t have been any more than half his height. The snaggletooth fang hanging over his teeth had a kitten like quality to him, when he wasn’t threatening to disembowel him. The skull buried against his side allowed him an unobstructed view of hairline fractures, long since healed, that spider webbed lines arched outward from what he could only guess as stress hits. Despite everything, a genuine smile graced the Bro. “you really are just a kid.”

The soft vibration of talking was enough to rouse the Edgy who yawned and nestled closer to him before his body tensed. The hand gripping a handful of his shirt shoved harshly making the Bro wince as the Bitty scrambled backwards, stumbling to his feet. “w-what the fuck ya tryna do?!” He shouted, an arm moving protectively across his body.

When he could finally breathe, the Bro rasped, “me? you’re the one getting all cozy like we’re sweethearts.”

The sudden rush of color was enough to lit up the entire underside of the dumpster in a soft cherry glow. “f-fuck off!” Spinning around the Bitty marched off, kicking trash as he vanished down the alley, making a racket along the way until the sound faded all together.

Surprised at the mismatched reaction, the Bro could do little more than lay and wait for the cranky return only for morning to come without a single appearance. It was for the best, he’d been able to grab a little rest, though it wasn’t exactly sleep. Days had begun to bleed into one another and he wasn’t sure if it was going on the third or fourth day in the alleyway. He did, however, know he was getting worse. The constant pain had started to wane and at first he figured he was getting used to it, as he did with previous injuries in the past, but this was all together different. He’d been cold too, but even that was starting to taper off. Food and rest, what little he got it, didn’t make a difference and the magic that kept his body together was growing thinner. No doubt the rush of magic he tried to summon when the cat attacked had drained him of what miniscule reserves he had. How the matrix of his body hadn’t crumbled yet, was beyond him.

Exhaustion was what eventually kept him asleep for most of the day and night and he figured, if he was going to go, it’d be best before the Edgy came back. Better in his sleep too and he couldn’t figure out why his body wouldn’t give up.

When he woke, it was the next morning and the Edgy was nowhere to be seen, nor was there any new food or water other than what was starting to spoil. Dragging the broken flakes of cracker to his mouth had lost it’s appeal. He spent the day alone and tensed at the deep rumble that felt a lot more closer than another thunderstorm. The ground vibrated under him and the shrill pierce of a rhythmic warning alarm felt like the calling for his demise as a garbage truck backed into the alley to pick up refuse and trash. The trash collectors had ignored the dumpster in the back, too old and rusted, not worth the time and effort to pick their way over to it and they ignored it. Even as the truck pulled away, the Bro remained tense and afraid.

Trying to sit up felt like a useless battle and he tested the boundaries of his magic, unable to muster even a flicker of his eye lights and the world around him felt even darker. The shuffle of trash nearby made him set aside his loathing anxiety for a new wave of fear as something smaller than a cat but bigger than a cockroach shuffled along in the trash. He stilled, his breathing loud in his acoustic meatus as a large rat sniffed out the food by him. His sock blanket was tugged and nibbled on before the creature loomed in his vision momentarily before focusing on his old rations. The water was lapped up and soggy, rotten crackers eaten before it turned back to him.

Whiskers trailed over his skull and the scrap of teeth along his shoulder had a weakened shout spilling from him before the rat moved on, interested in one of his shoed feet. There was a sharp tug on his right leg and the Bro squeezed his sockets closed. He thought of the crazy contraption the Edgy had made but there was no way he’d be strong enough to pull back on the bow. When nothing happened, he cracked open one socket to see the rat had moved on. Not even good enough for the rats to gnaw on.

His vague laugh ended in a violent coughing spell, teeth speckled with watery magic that threatened to come up with each fierce shudder. It left him shaking uncontrollable and his bones clacked dully. He was so tired, so tired of this back and forth, the fight stripped from him from the very beginning. He’d spent his entire life in the fighting rings, keeping fragments of himself, a joke, a soundless laugh, the ache of tears and existed in a hateful cycle of pain and anger leaving him detached, floaty, so easy to simply lose himself in nothing. Escaping from the rings hadn’t felt real since the moment he squeezed through the door and maybe, he thought, it’d been a lapse in his dream. He was still living in a cage, half dead from a fight and this was a new daydream to keep him sane.

yeah… sane,” he croaked, words hitching in a chocked sob.

____________________

 

The rain came hard in a torrential downpour that flooded his refuse island, soaking him in growing waves before he sluggishly awoke to rainwater in his eye sockets. They lapped at his sock, threatening to drown him as the sodden material grew heavier and he struggle weakly against it, before sagging back. Isn’t this what he wanted? He could just go peacefully like this.

Hands caught under his arms and lifted him just enough to raise his skull from the rapidly rising water before tugging backwards until he was back on dry hand. The Edgy collapsed with the Bro in his lap, one hand still gripping his arm painfully. “ya wanna drown or somethin’ asshole,” he spat, glaring at the passive skeleton in his arms.

beats choking to death on a lifesaver.”

“what?”

The Bro struggled to repeat it, teeth chattering against the cold before giving him a lopsided grin, which wasn’t an acceptable answer for the other Bitty.

“the fucks wrong wit’ya?”

That earned him a baleful smile. “everything.”

There was a long pause before the Edgy wheezed with rough laughter, squeezing him tightly.

Chapter Text

“hey? hey!” Poking the still Bitty at his feet, the Edgy sat back on his haunches and set a hand atop of the Bro’s skull before pressing the other to his own, trying to gauge the difference in temperature. He growled. This was stupid. Standing, his hand came away dusty and he stared at the grey flakes before shaking the limb free of them. Squinting overhead at the rare peek of sun through questionable clouds, the Bitty had dragged the Bro out from under the dumpster to get some light. He’d been out since the other day, falling asleep in his arms and no amount of yelling and poking had woken him.

“ya stupid piece of trash,” he griped, curling his hands into fists and stared up at the dwindling sunlight. “do ya have any idea how hard it was ta move ya? ya gonna d-dust now?” He scrubbed angrily at his face. “this is the thanks i get fer takin’ care of yer dumb ass.”

“fine! fuck ya, yer someone else’s problem!” Drawing a red, glowing bone construct from his magic, he took off down the alley at a lopping gait and headed toward the main street.

____________________

 

Jamming your sketchbook into your workbag, you winced when you heard the tear of paper and pulled it out to inspect the damage. After realizing you’d only torn the loose leaf paper you had floating in your bag; one of these day you’d get around to cleaning it, you shoved the sketch book back in and eyed the dark clouds out the closest window near your cubicle.

“Oh my gawd,” you bemoaned, your head lolling back dramatically as you pouted, “I am so ready for this freakish rain to be over.”

Leaning against your desk, you coworker Zahra humored you with a sympathetic smile. She affixed one of your wonky key chains; a yellow, fat lightening tailed mouse, and squeezed it. It squeaked harmonically as you riffled through the rest of your drawings, debating on which ones to take home. You weren’t sure if you should focus on backgrounds or tighten up character designs. Both were important for different reasons. You debated backgrounds for an awkwardly long time before holding up an unfinished piece.

“What do you think?” You asked your colleague. “Absolute space disaster? Or salvageable junker?”

Deep coffee colored eyes flickered across your acrylic work, flawlessly scrutinizing every little detail of the space faring galaxy you’d been working on in between costume designs. It hadn’t exactly been your forte but there was a reason why you weren’t in charge of scenery. Zahra was an absolute sweetheart and willing to put up with you more so than others. She even occasionally got your humor. She gave a light shrug of her shoulders and caught the edge of her jaw, trailing fingertips along the silken hijab to adjust it.

You looked down to the simple white coffee cup in her hand, knowing it came from the nearby vending machine. “If I compliment your brave choice of beverage, does that earn me brownie points?” You liked your coffee strong but the sludge that oozed out of the machine could hardly be called drinkable.

Instead of a reply, you got a subtle eye roll and another smile. “I’d work on the perspective of the supernova here.” She trailed a path along the edge of your painting, just shy of touching it. “The way it falls off the page pulls the eye in the wrong direction. You want to focus more on the nebula here and here. You want to dazzle but not blind.”

You took back the painting to look it over. Working for an independent gaming company had its faults and perks. The faults being one was saddled with a lot more responsibilities then you wanted, the perks being you could work from home. And that was what you’d planned to do for the weekend. You’d been spending far too much time here, the night cleaning crew was beginning to know you quite intimately. They already knew your name, even without your badge.

“You leaving?”

“Gonna try,” you replied, slipping the paper into your portfolio. “My teams behind on the schedule. Rogers,” there was no keeping the derisive edge out of the name of the other team leader, “is getting hung up on the game engine and insisting we start over from scratch. Like I got time for that. So now I have to clock in overtime to get us back on track and with Maria down with the flu, it’s tough.”

Zahra sipped from her cup. “How are you guys doing?”

“Concept arts being finalized at the end of next week, guess we’re going with the reptile aliens with tiddies route.”

Your coworker snorted on her coffee and chastised you with a disappointed, “Jonny!”

You shrugged indifferently, glancing at the small hard dive poking out from your computer. It was still downloading your work. “At least I talked them out of the boob window armor. Nothing says totalitarian species hell bent on taking over the universe like tata’s on display.”

You shoved the rest of your work in your pack with a little less finesse. “I’m going to take some stuff home and work on it, you know, fancy that shit up for the big wigs to give their final stamp before moving on. 3-D’s really cracking down on us and I guess they need a head start on that jiggle boob physics.”

Zahra shook her head. “Speaking of boobs.”

The casual drop of the salacious word from your usually reserved coworker had you looking up expectantly and followed the casual tip of her head. Looking over your shoulder, you spotted another coworker heading your way and kept your reaction to an under the breath, “ugh.”

Blake. The name alone made you inwardly wince and not from the overly bleached perfect teeth he permaflashed at everyone. On the outside, Blake was your average rich boy, clean, neat, hair perfectly coifed, clothes perfectly tailored even down the cable knit sweater that was too casually slung over his shoulders. On the inside, he was a conceited, arrogant, socially unaware, douche canoe you’d hope would sink one day. In shallow waters of course, because murder was wrong, but flailing about was amusing.

As if sensing both you staring, Blake looked up from where he leaned against another one of your coworker’s desk and waved in your direction, pointing at himself then giving the two minute mark followed by a thumbs up.

At your sudden and not entirely frantic packing, your coworker took her cue to head off. “Wait,” you hissed, trapped by your infernally slow hard drive. “don’t leave me. He’s gonna talk and be friendly at me.”

You could sense the deep and calculated pause. “I’m out of here.”

“Traitor.” You gave a mock gasp, pressing a hand to your chest. “I’ll never forgive you for this.”

Zahra laughed, a wonderful sound to your ears. “See you Monday, Jon.”

Your mood lifted and you grinned, showing there was no hard feelings. “Laters, Zee.” Watching your colleague head off, you turned your attention back to your work. Maybe you could forgo the work you’d been transferring, leaving it to the wolves when you could sneak back in over the weekend to retrieve. Giving it serious thought as you watched the transfer bar speed up to ninety-six percent and then hover. Your work was really going to have to update their computers or system or whatever, really soon if they wanted to expand.

Bleu Moon was far from a household name, but after the successful round of phone app games, they’d decided to move forward. That meant juggling projects for everyone. Which wasn’t necessarily bad, you really appreciated the overtime, but it was also a hassle when things went awry. And they so often did. Hiccups were bound to happen, as you were told but you were tired of holding your breath.

A melodic ding nudged you from your thoughts. Your download was done. You ejected the zip drive, stuffing that too into your pack and debating on packing up anything else. You could always come back. Rubbing your hip from your awkward stance, you turned and nearly smacked face first into a baby pink sweater. Taking an inelegant step back, you put a hand down your desk for balance so you could crane your head up to meet a deep blue twinkling gaze.

“Sup, girlie,” Blake purred and flashed a blinding set of teeth your way. He gave a light toss of his head, the subtle bounce of his curly hair waving softly. He was exactly the kind of guy you brought home to mother. “I didn’t see you there,” he bantered your silence and you grunted in return, like you hadn’t heard that one before. Your absolute favorite being, how’s the weather down there. The perils of being short was being subject to hilarious jokes.

“Hey, Chad.”

The twinkle in his eyes dimmed a little, though you knew it wasn’t from your neutral tone. “It’s Blake, sweetie. Honestly, we’ve been working together for three months now.”

The irony was not lost on you.

“Girl, have you seen my sweet, little, baby?”

Your neck was starting to hurt from looking up at him and you blinked at the small body he held out in his palm. It took you a moment to take in the tiny skeleton wearing a pastel yellow summer dress and heels, sitting poised in his palm. A delicate hand was wrapped around his thumb as an anchor and they looked down at you with a slow blink.

“This is Princess.”

“…Cool, I guess.” You weren’t exactly sure what you were supposed to say, finding the whole idea of owning a person uncomfortable. Your partner had finally dropped the conversation all together by the time she left and though you hadn’t talked to her in a couple of days, you felt she had taken the incredible hint you’d given her. The hint being, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

Blake set the Bitty down to stand in the middle of your desk and you scooted your pack over to give them room amongst your mess. You debated if your workspace should mirror your messy office at home. The Bitty wobbled in their heels before regaining their balance and folded hands daintily at their waist before standing quietly at attention. Without Blake’s giant yaoi hand in the way, you noted just how teeny the little monster was. Your line of Funko Pop figures rivaled them in height by at least an inch. You didn’t know they made clothes that tiny and delicate.

Your coworker started in on a background spiel for his precious little angel, a Baby Blue, smugly stating he’d gotten them from a high-class breeder who specialized in purebreds and pedigrees. Whatever that was suppose to mean. You were pretty sure it was just a lot of bullshit one could parade around like it meant something. They were a well known and expensive breeder, you had to be put on a two year waiting list, but of course he didn’t have to wait, not with his family name to back it up. You refrained from rolling your eyes. He spared nothing but the finest for Princess, designer clothing, special food, assorted lessons. You kinda of spaced out for a moment before shifting your weight, wondering if you’d be able to catch your bus home.

Oh god, he was still going on. You took a moment to refocus to catch the tail end of Blake checking off a list of talents like someone would affix their dog. Princess was apparently capable of performing several tricks, like curtseying and speaking different languages, like French.

“Hey, don’t you speak French, girl?” You dragged your gaze from looking longingly down the open hallway of freedom and met his questioning with a raised brow. “I heard Tina down in accounting said you could.”

“Uh yeah, a little, I guess. Cause you know… I’m French.” Technically your mother was, so that made you like half French? Or a quarter if you counted the Creole and then there was your father? Eh it was all semantics in the end. You weren’t going to go into details about your family lineage. You were a mish mash of a whole lot of things.

“Really.” You didn’t like the way Blake challenged that. “You don’t look it,” he added, gesturing to your hair and you couldn’t help but bring a hand up to touch the faded green dreadlocks you had twisted up and out of the way.

“What the hell is that suppose to mean?”

“Nothing.” Blake instantly backpedaled, raising a hand in a peace offering and you resisted the urge to smack it out of your face. “Geeze, you’re so sensitive. Oh, girl, I have to tell you-”

“Stop calling me that!” Princess visibly flinched at your sharp tone and you only remembered the little monster. They hadn’t moved, staring casually into the open air with a very doll like facade. It was a little unnerving how quickly you had forgotten they were there, blending into the toys and action figures you had scattered about.

“What?” Blake was completely oblivious, having forgotten or ignored the many times you asked him top calling you gendered names.

The innocent, wide eyed look from your obnoxious coworker made you inwardly sigh and you shook your head, deciding it just wasn’t worth the budding headache. “Never mind,” you muttered, your attention falling back to the bitty.

A hand crept to the neckline of their dress and nervously tugged on a small, thin collar, something you hadn’t noticed before. Your opinion of Blake nosedived even further. You stared openly now as the monster continued to fiddle with the collar, curling fingers underneath it before they seemed to catch themselves. Instantly they adopted a cowed look and reluctantly dropped their hand back to their waist. Careful of your hand still on the desk, you scooted your chair closer to you before sinking into it, bringing you down to their level to avoid towering over them. Not that you were that tall to begin with.

“Anyway,” Blake droned on but you were only half paying attention.

Propping your elbow on the desk, you rested your chin in hand and idly observed the guy, letting him go on for a little while. “You got something stuck in your teeth.”

Immediately your coworker clammed up, tongue roving behind clenched lips and he shifted away to try and discreetly remove the offending object. Annoying conversation stilted, you glanced sideways at the little monster watching you curiously. You winked at them and they dropped their gaze, hunching their shoulders. That and the collar tugging didn’t seem like a healthy response.

All three of you turned when Blake’s name was called across the office space, your team leader leaning out of his personal office. He gave a wave and disappeared behind his door.

Blake sneered quietly. “Can you watch her for a minute?”

“What? No, I-”

“Thanks, girl!” Blake was already walking away, leaving you panicky calling after him as if you’d been handed a live bomb.

Slowly, you looked down at the Bitty, who meet your gaze with large glassy eye lights. “Uuhhhh….” Way to make them feel welcomed, butthead. “Hey? You uh, you okay little… uh, dudette?”

Dropping hands to their flared skirt that ended just below their knees, they dropped into a curtsy. With their head still bowed, they went on almost too quite to hear. You had to lean in to hear their incredibly young voice. “I am very well, thank you most kindly.”

You snorted amusedly. “Ah man, you don’t gotta be all civil and junk around me. I got me a set of shit manners, being raised by wolves and all. I’m the last person you gotta worry about that.” You swiveled in your chair, resting the toe of one of your orange sneakers on the chair’s foot rest. “I’m Jon, by the way.” They continued to stare up at you, increasing the quiet uneasiness. “So, you really speak French?”

Princess startled at that as if they’d been caught doing something they shouldn’t. “I…” Their voice trembled. “Um, yes?” They didn’t so sure of themselves. “But, daddy doesn’t like me to use it.”

Great, you were going to have to kinkshame Blake now. “Why not?”

That nervous, jittery air returned and the Bitty clasped their hands tightly at their waist. You had a sneaking suspicion it was to curb them for going for the collar again. “D-daddy is very smart and lovely and kind.”

“Uh, okay.” Because that wasn’t a weird deflective answer. Nor were you entirely sure how to take it from there. It was then you noticed they were looking curiously at you again and made the connection when you tilted your head and they watched the heavy sway of your lopsided bun. You guessed seeing green hair was a little out of the ordinary, even if you did work amongst an armada of colorful artists. Heather had pink streaks in her hair and Arturo was rocking full on platinum but both still had been slightly more sociably acceptable than your own. At least they didn’t make you cover your tattoos. That would have been some serious double standards bullshit.

“Pretty weird, huh?”

Your hair was given another thorough once over. “Daddy says people with odd colored hair, tattoos and piercings try too much.”

“Well, your daddy is a bag of dicks.”

The Bitty cocked their head. “Dicks?”

Shit. Before you could backpedal in corrupting the poor kid, Blake probably didn’t even let them watch tv, you decided to own up to it. “Yeah, the biggest bag of dicks ever.” You didn’t say you were going to apologize for it. “People can express themselves however they see fit, as long as it doesn’t hurt themselves or others.”

“Oh.” It was a demure acceptance, following an odd listless energy as they seemed to think to themselves. It was a little adorable to watch the quiet thoughtful pose they adopted, crossing arms as their gaze drifted in thought. Their soft grin widened before fading and nodded as in agreement to whatever they decided on. “I think they’re pretty.”

You followed their gaze to the arm you had resting on your desk, shirt sleeve ridding up to expose a section of the work in progress tattoo sleeve you’d always wanted. It was the nightmares of parents and dreams of every young fankid and definitely not something you’d regret in your thirties. You pushed your sleeve up further to reveal the rest of the work, a collection of your treasured favorite games and fandoms, a green one up mushroom from Mario sat snug against Wonder Woman’s tiara that bordered a Red Right Hand of Doom like a glowing crown. You had the line work of Majora’s Mask just below your elbow and you had hopped to get the color work done by next month. You had an awful lot more room to fill in and so many ideas.

Princess reached out, eye lights blown wide by the splashes of color that decorated your arm before jerking their hand away. Back to clasping them tightly, it physically pained you to see the little monster so afraid.

“You want to touch them?”

It was as if they had won the lottery and they nodded enthusiastically, before glancing behind them to see if anyone was around. You assumed Blake and moved your arm closer as they reached out slowly, pressing fingertip gently along the bright green mushroom.

You let out a gentle, “boo.”

Startling them, they laughed suddenly and brightly and it was like fucking sunshine and rainbows as they lit up, eye lights shifting from simple white dots to sweet blue, shimmering stars. Their faint smile tipped upward into a full blown grin as they cupped their face.

“Whoa,” you breathed. That was too freakin’ adorable.

The Baby Blue blushed and ducked their head shyly, the tenseness of their shoulders missing even when they folded their hands together, twiddling thumbs.

“You wanna draw or something? Don’t know how long Blake’s gonna be.” Knowing him, forever. “I think I got some apps on my phone you can play too.”

The stars threatened to make their return in full Technicolor glory but just as fast, they faded away and the small Bitty looked absolutely crestfallen. “Daddy doesn’t allow me to play. It might wrinkle my dress.”

That sounded way overboard. “What Blake wont know, wont hurt him, yeah?” Leaning over, you tugged open a drawer and hauled out some paper and your expensive prismacolor pencils. You then realized the pencils were three times as big as your little buddy and you debated if you could snap off the tips to make little fragments small enough for tiny hands.

Princess’ fingers twitched at the sight of the colorful pencils but faltered, drawing their hands back. “I…I shouldn’t.”

You caught the twinkle in their eye socket but hitched your shoulders in a shrug. “All right, suit yourself. I’m gonna doodle then.” Dumping out your pencils you lined them up and spent a moment choosing a color, a soft charcoal grey before you started sketching. You glanced up at the Bitty every now and then to see them watching curiously. Switching to a soft yellow, you drew out flowing lines, mirroring the shape of the monster’s dress as if they were twirling, following with an even darker grey to deepen your original sketch lines. God, they were so tiny, meticulously detailed down to the itty, bitty little bones that made up their hands.

You couldn’t imagine trying to draw them to scale, instead of opting for a more exaggerated size and only when you started on their blue, starry eye lights did the monster gasp sharply.

“IS THAT, eep!” They shook themselves at their explosive reaction, clapping a hand over their mouth as they darted to look up at you, a worrying fear making them hunch themselves as if they’d done something bad.

You tried to smile to reassure them but their response made your stomach flop. “You? Yeah…” Trailing off, you twisted the paper around so they could see it better. “What do you think? That’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.”

The bitty fidgeted with their dress, fingers curling in the material before they seemed to realize what they were doing. A hand returned to tug on their collar as they took on a look of brief distress at your work.

“Well, I admit, it’s not my best. Never been that good at flowy dress things.”

“… I’m not a girl.”

If you hadn’t been looking at the monster, you were sure you would have missed the hushed tone and the utter conviction behind it. You didn’t know a single thing about Bittys and their concept of gender. Setting your pencil down, you gave the small monster your full attention. “Does Blake know?”

“Yes.” They fidgeted again. “Daddy wanted a little girl, but there was only me.” They dropped their head and sighed quietly. “I’m… not a girl.”

You didn’t bat an eye. “Me neither.”

The Blue squinted up at you, glancing at your features again as if to find their answer. “Are you a boy, like me?”

That solved the delicate question of what they were. You smiled, “Nope!”

His confusion was palpable and adorable as he scrunched his face up in thought. “Are… you human?”

Your smile deepened into a grin. “Some people may say that’s debatable, but with three cups of coffee in me, I move up the ladder to subterrnium human. I’m not fully human until every fiber of being is vibrating with caffeine.”

“That…. That sounds painful. I’m sorry.”

You gave a bark of laughter, startling the Bitty again. “Nah, dude, I’m just joking.” Leaning back on your chair, you scratched the back of your head as you debated on how to explain gender in as few and simple words as possible. “Think of it is as, I’m just me. Just like you’re a boy and you feel like a boy.” You paused and he nodded quietly. “Then I feel like I’m neither and that’s okay.”

The Bitty gave you a serious, long look. “People are free to express themselves as long as they’re not hurting others?”

“Uuh… you know, that’s close enough. We’ll save gender studies 101 for another time dude. In the meantime, you’re free to get in on some of this hawt drawing action. Look.” You pulled out your phone, pressing your thumb against the screen to unlock it. “Here, I got a drawing program that you can use.” Tapping the app open, you brought up the screen and showed the little markers and pens he could use, making a few scribbled lines with your finger before starting with a clean screen. You had his rapt attention with that. “I saw you eying my pencils. This way you can draw and no mess.”

Setting your phone up, you grabbed your stack of cute animal post it notes and set it up like a chair for the little guy to perch on. He all but debated for half a second before carefully sweeping the skirt of his dress and sat on the edge of the notes and leaned out to press his palm against the screen, bringing up a pallet of colors. You stopped existing to him as he pilfered through colors.

You weren’t sure how long you spent drawing in silence, both in your own little worlds until the Bitty giggled brightly. “Look,” he beamed, drawing your gaze from your still shoddy dress to the phone screen of the crude stick figure drawing with green squiggles for hair. “I made you.”

“Damn,” you gave a whistle of appreciation. “Working that fierce Medusa vibe! Turn all them boys to stone. I love it, like looking in a mirror.” Your response made the starry eyes return as he lit up and continued drawing. Glancing over him, you noted the sun had already set and you weren’t sure, but it looked like rain.

By that time, Blake finally made his way back to you in a slow trailing pace as if he wasn’t making you more late. At this point, you were going to miss your bus and Lyft was such a pain in the ass to work with. Never knew what you were going to get. The last one felt very serial killer stalker like, but you got a balloon animal out of it in the end and you guess that sorta made up for it. You gave them five stars and they didn’t kill you. So, you’d call that a win.

Blake practically sprawled himself on your desk, jostling your phone and it slid down with a thunk. “Sorry gurl, I totally got caught up. Have you seen Michael? Mmm, he is so fine. You should really hit him up sometime.”

You felt your eye twitch at the hollow apology. Whatever, not like you had a home to go to or anything. “Sorry, he’s not really my type,” you returned, keeping your voice cool.

“What is your type? I mean, I never know what all you kids like these days.”

You sighed. “Blake, you’re like five years older than me. And my type is, not Michael. Michael’s a dudebro roidhead who doesn’t understand that catcalling is not a form of flattery. What about that says date material?”

“His fine ass.”

“Daddy.” The Baby Blue stood quietly as soon as Blake appeared. He’d dusted off his dress and fluffed up the skirt until it poofed around his bare femurs and remained still. The nervous gesture of tugging on his collar the only give away to how he felt when Blake rounded on him.

“Yes, baby?”

“Jon’s not a girl.”

Blake looked from him to you and then back to his Bitty. “Oh, right,” he stated, as if it wasn’t of any importance to him. “Anyways, I gotta get back to my desk. I need to finish my report and send it off to Heather.” He huffed and tossed his hair, giving the vagueness of a sneer that instantly detracted from his good boy looks. “She’s constantly breathing down my neck, the harpie.”

“Heather?” You deadpanned. “Sweet, kind, loveable Heather? Heather with a healthy obsession for Minnie Mouse and M&M’s? I doubt that.” This guy was seriously getting on your last nerve. Heather was absolute gem, the project manager that oversaw everyone and would bend over backwards to help anyone who needed it. Nobody talked shit about Heather.

“Whatevs, all you girls stick together.” Your face must have said exactly what you were thinking. “I’m teasing you. All y’all are so sensitive these days.” Blake leaned across the desk to sweep his Bitty into his hand, barely giving him to catch his balance and sink into the awaiting palm. The Baby Blue clutched at a finger before twisting to face you.

Choosing to ignore Blake, you smiled at the Bitty. “Nice meetin’ ya little dude.”

“Bye-bye Jon.” He gave a little wave before Blake swept away, waving down another coworker to corner and harass.

Flopping back in your chair, you sighed. Putting up with Blake took a lot more spoons than you realized. Reaching for your phone, you saved the picture the Bitty had drawn into your pics before slipping it back into your pocket. You tidied up by shoving everything into a drawer and cramming the last essentials into your heavy pack. It was going to have to do, you did not want to come back. With the aid of your high backed chair and sturdy wheels, you stood, grabbed your pack and tried not to topple over at the added weight. Adjusting it so it rested across your chest and the weight evened out, the pack bounced heavily against your lower back as you gave a few tentative steps forward.

Hightailing it out of the maze of cubicles, you waved at the few coworkers still mingling, passing by the evening cleaning crew as they wheeled in their cart, talking amongst themselves. “Later Les, Marie and… Joe?” The man nodded and you grinned, giving a parting wave over your shoulder as headed out directly into the pouring rain.

“Great,” you grumbled. At least you had your umbrella, but you’d forgotten your jacket. Smart move, dumbass. Snapping the gold and green umbrella open, you huddled under it to avoid the rapidly cooling rain and set out down the street. You already missed the bus in front of your work but if you booked it, you might be able to catch the one a couple of blocks down. It ran a different schedule and route, but that just meant hoping from one bus to another. Technically you could have walked home, you weren’t so far away from your apartment that it was impossible but it was at least half an hour and you were not about that right now.

Walking like a lumbering drunk, you tried to avoid a puddle and felt a harsh tug on your pack. Instinctively you grabbed at it, intending to swing it forward but the strap snapped, sending it tumbling to the sidewalk beside you. Shit! You fumbled with your umbrella and the useless strap that partially hung off your shoulder and bent to retrieve your bag, getting a windfull of cold rain up your backside. You jerked forward, balance askew and watched dumbly as your bag snapped open and blue tinged paperwork tumbled out, aided by the growing wind before it was snatched away down a dark alleyway.

“No, no, no! Fuck!” What were you, an anime character? Snatching your bag, you tucked it under your arm and chased after your work. They were already ruined but it was a sense of stupid pride that kept you moving. Your life was just one goddamn sitcom show, complete with a canned laugh track. You caught one paper resting facedown in a muddy puddle and groaned as you picked it up between two fingers.

“help!” The small cry made you freeze, a sudden chill running down your back. Instinct said to back out, right now. “help me,” the cry came again and against your better judgment, you took a step forward.

“I swear if I get fucking murdered, I’m gonna haunt the shit out of this alley.” Hesitantly you moved, holding your useless umbrella out in front of you as if you would protect you. You moved past a dumpster and a fat alley cat darted away, startling a yelp out of you. “Fuck it, I’m leaving.”

“help me, please.”

Fucking hell! You didn’t want to look anymore, oh god. What if it was a rat. Rats didn’t talk. Or a mouse. They don’t either. Or a baby. What the fuck self, really. Taking a deep breath, you peered in through the dark before rooting around in your jeans pocket for your phone. A fumbling moment later, you tapped on the flashlight app and the alleyway light up. Sidestepping a pile of spilled trash, you stared down at little white doll you nearly stepped on. It took an agonizing long moment to realize it wasn’t a doll but a Bitty.

“Fuck,” you hissed, crouching down over the small shape. It looked dead, lifelessly laying underneath a nasty sock and your heart lurched. You didn’t want to see this. A hollow coldness settled in the pit of your stomach, making you queasy. You reached out, fingers hovering over him and gently prodded it, expecting it to react. When he rolled with the movement, you pulled your hand back and noticed a fine coating of dust. That was bad wasn’t it? Somewhere in your long term memory of working at a Bitty center, you remembered dust was a bad thing.

“Hang on dude. I got you.” Did you really? What were you going to do? Where was the center you volunteered at? Wasn’t it nearby? Shit you couldn’t remember. As carefully as you could, you gathered the skeleton Bitty in your free hand. He was limp and cold, bones an ashy color even in the dark. He felt like he weighed nothing and would crumble at the slightly provocation. Cradling him close to you, you forgoed your umbrella leaving it in the alley and fumbled with your bag and phone.

Form underneath the dumpster, the Edgy watched as you took off down the alley back to the street, Lil Bro in hand. Blue magic faded from his hand and he eyed one of the drawings he had stolen from your bag, a small skeleton in a yellow dress and sneered at it before turning back.

“good riddance.”

Chapter Text

The rhythmic tap of your heel on the linoleum floor was a fluttery, dull sound in your ears as you leaned forward in your seat. You rocked a little, soaking wet from the rain you endured before you could catch a taxi and tightened your crossed arms to fend off the cold that clung to you. The empty lobby of the Bitty Center was warm, bathed in soft lights and soothing colors that reminded you of a doctor’s lounge. There was even a stack of old magazines on the small inn table between chairs and children’s toys pilled in a plastic container tucked away into the corner. The sight of a spindly, wire ball maze you remembered fondly as a kid pushing the wooden beads along the swirling wire track, was a nice touch of nostalgia.

You’d been sitting in the lobby for god knew how long. The thought of checking your phone didn’t occur to you even as a plain, white clock ticked above you. You’d called ahead to the Bitty Center while sitting hunched in the taxi, one arm still curled protectively around the unconscious Bitty in your lap. You were pretty sure you hadn’t made a lick of sense on the phone but you did get across it was urgent. Luckily they were waiting for you when you arrived, ushering the small guy to the back while making sure you took a seat in the lobby. You should probably do, something? Call someone? What were you suppose to do a in a case like this?

A slight cough made you jump and snapped your head up at the soft yellow towel offered to you. You stared quizzically at the towel, your brain trying to catch up to the jumbled shape before you looked up to meet the gaze of a smiling monster. They were a soft lilac furred monster with dainty horns that swept up and out from their head. Matching large, doe like eyes crinkled with their softening smile.

“Uh, thanks,” you found your voice, sounding a little distant. “’ppreciate it.”

Accepting it, you straightened and immediately ran the towel over your head, careful of your dreadlocks as you squeezed the towel around them. You dropped it around your shoulders, more for warmth than anything. You were leaving a small inconspicuous puddle on the floor but no one seemed bothered by it. It did little to stop the shaking you were beginning to suspect wasn’t solely from the cold. “How’s the, uh, little guy doing?”

“Not so well, I’m afraid.” Their voice was soft in the same unhurried gentle tone they used when they carefully led you to a chair after passing the Bitty to another monster. They moved to sit beside you in the other seat, gracefully fixing their cardigan sweater. “While his injuries weren’t especially life threatening, they went unhealed for too long and an infection spread to his magic.” There was no schooling your horrified look. “We’ve managed to contain and cleanse the infection,” they added in an effort to soothe you. “He will recover with time.” They sighed quietly, folding their hands. “The damage to his spine, however, may never fully heal.”

A hand moved to your mouth to keep whatever sound was trying to escape and you inhaled deeply and let it out slowly before talking. “What happened to him?”

“A multitude of things, he may have lived a life on the streets, resided with rough Bitties, or even an abusive home. You said it was an alleyway where you found him?”

“Yeah,” you answered, “My bag broke and I lost some work and he was just,” you gestured aimlessly. “There.”

“Did you see anyone else? Other Bitties?”

You thought back to the darkened side road. “No? I kinda was more focused on the little dude.”

They nodded silently. You’d already been questioned earlier by an assistant, having gone through a rousing game of twenty questions, but you didn’t have any real information to give, other than finding him in the alley. When it didn’t seem like the monster had more to ask, you figured it was their polite way of asking you to move on.

Moving to stand, you gathered a leg under you to push up and struggled with your balanced, pointedly ignoring the proffered hand. You did glance at it though, momentarily distracted by the pink paw pads before grabbing your bag. You’d fixed it with a few safety pins you had hanging out in the bottom of your bag. You rooted them out, along with three sticks of gum, two copic markers, an empty tin of breath mints and about seventy-five cents in change. It’d hold long enough to get home. Readjusting your bag evenly, you tugged the towel off your shoulders and folded it haphazardly before giving up.

“Could I like, maybe see him before I head home, you know, put my own mind at ease.”

“Yes, of course. But, I’m sorry. He wont be ready to take home for a while.”

“Whoa, whoa,” you blurted out, raising your hands to take a wobbly step back. “He’s not with me. I don’t even know him. I just found the guy.”

The monster made a soft, disquieted sound. “Most humans don’t put this much care or money, without being invested in owning a Bitty.”

You inwardly winced at that. Goodbye gorgeous Pac Rim fig you’d been eying for the past week. Scunner had evaded your bidding kungfu for months and it had been that very morning when the toy landed in your lap for a great price that you were not going to pass up. Oh well, this was a much better thing to spend your money on. Helping out was much better than another figure to your dusty collection.

“I may be an asshole, but I’m not that big of an asshole.”

The monster hummed and you really wish you’d gotten their name. You were so bad at names though. “Have you thought about adoption before?”

The awkward laugh you forced out sounded hollow and you averted your gaze guiltily. “What am I going to do with a Bitty? I can’t even keep a goldfish alive. I was five okay,” you answered the uneasy silence that followed, but it was still a long, uncomfortable moment before the monster relaxed.

“Maybe fostering is more your style.”

They may have been sweet and nice, but damn did they know how to make a hard sell. “Look, I just want to see him, Okay? I just, Jesus.” You looked down at your hands, rubbing your thumb across your fingers and tried not to think about the soft silt of dust between them or how your hands still trembled. “He was so fucking tiny.” You pressed your hands to your stomach, balling them into fists.

“All right,” they agreed after a quiet moment of contemplation and you looked up when they settled the towel back around your shoulders. With a soft gesture for you to follow, you headed through the short gaited door one might use to keep children or small animals at bay. Through it, the lobby opened up to different areas designated for the Bitties, short waist high walls keeping the areas penned up. You move past the lot of them toward a back room that had turned into a makeshift recovery room. There were additional cages and curtained off areas set up for an overflow of little monsters.

“Is it always this busy?”

“Not usually,” the monster replied, slowing down as they tiptoed through a quiet area, soft little snores echoing around you. “We received an influx of Bitties from a fighting ring. There was a terrible fire and many required a great deal of healing.”

You gripped the towel tightly. “Shit, that’s awful,” you breathed.

“We’re not one of the major centers,” they sighed. “And we aren’t equipped to handle this much at one time. We’re working on relocating many of them to other clinics and temporary homes.” They looked hopefully at you.

“No, no. I know that look and, fuck,” you cursed quietly. “I can barely keep myself in line. I don’t have patience or time or knowledge or, or…” You tried to tick off your faults. “I am not a responsible person. Like at all. I wear dirty clothes if they pass the sniff test, I order out 24/7, I work all the time. I don’t even keep plants in my apartment. I killed a cactus last year. Cactus! A desert is more nurturing then I am. Year before that, it was bamboo and last I heard, bamboo is notoriously hard to kill. But here I am, the black thumbed killer.”

“…Yes,” the monster hesitated. “Perhaps it is for the best you don’t foster.”

You raised your hands in a presenting manner. It was a whole lot easier to deface your own name and amp up your faults for a good cause. You were the perfect example of someone who should never adopt. The monster led you on, picking up their pace again to walk past the adopter Bitties, a few still awake. Some waved at you, giving soft greetings and you couldn’t help but wave back. They were too adorable not to. An Edgy flipped you off and you returned the favor, only to turn back and catch the monster watching you.

“He started it,” you threw a thumb over your shoulder to point at him and the Bitty mocked you, tossing a few insults your way and you stuck your tongue out at him. He cackled sharply as the monster all but tugged you along. The hand on your shoulder had remained gentle but firm. It was only a respectful nudge and you appreciated their respect for your boundaries.

Slipping through another door that had a sign signifying it was another quiet area, you walked down a long hallway with doors that led to evaluation rooms. It was a more sterile area, less color than the cheerful vibrancy of the front area, and it smelled distinctly medical. Posters lined the walls with happy humans with Bitties all theatrically posed in after school special activities like bike riding, swimming and reading. All very wholesome and not uncanny valley at all.

The monster led you to the last room on the right, one of the smaller eval rooms with a stainless steel table in the middle. White cabinets lined the far wall over a countertop and sink. A small scale sat beside the basin sink, small enough to even fit in your little apartment kitchen with several glass jars filled with cotton swabs, ace bandages and sterile wipes. On the opposite wall was another motivational poster and smack dab in the middle of the table was the Bitty you found, surrounded by an improvised bedding made out of towels and gauze rolls.

You froze in the doorway, gripping your pack’s strap tightly in one hand. The Little Bro appeared to be asleep, his sockets closed and the sorry excuse for clothes had been replaced with a hospital looking gown with little ties. Your gaze remained transfixed on the slight bulge where his stomach would have been before realizing he was heavily bandaged under his gown. You shifted, knuckles white against your pack’s strap and you really, really didn’t want to be here.

“It’s all right,” the gentle monster’s voice reassured you. “He’s resting now.”

Slowly you took the tiniest step into the room, not wanting to move any closer. What if you breathed too hard on the little guy and he crumbled. The sudden jarring ring of a telephone made you start and the monster excused themselves to answer it. You watched them walk back down the hall with a desperation you hadn’t felt since the time your mom left a young you at the checkout stand to grab a gallon of milk. With an inward whine, you turned back to the Bitty to see the little guy staring at you with empty sockets. You stiffened, unsure if he was awake until the sockets blinked and your secondary back up brain cells kicked into gear.

“You look like shit,” you blurted out. Smooth.

thanks.” His voice was small and weak, croaking on the word that made your throat hurt in sympathy. “heard the doc say a human found me.” There was little emotion behind it, pain slurring each word.

“Yeah, that’d be me.” You shuffled backward a full step to put some distance between you both and hovered in the doorway again. The Bitty’s gaze wavered at the movement before flinching and he tried to curl on his side with little success. Tiny fingers pinched at the gown’s billowing length, bunching it little wrinkles as he tugged uselessly.

“I, uh.” You hadn’t expected to talk to him, let alone him being awake. “How are you feeling?” You instantly regretted it. “Sorry, stupid question.” You were absolutely terrible at this emotional thing and wondered why you even allowed yourself out in the public. The dark sockets shifted briefly to you and you laughed awkwardly before staring at the little jars of medical swabs, bandages, and something that was liquid in form on the countertop behind him.

“Uh, I just wanted to see how you were doing and not mentally scar you more than you need to be.” Shut up Jon, stop talking.

There was a small, painful snort that winded the Bitty for a long moment. You didn’t expect him to keep talking. “too late for that, kid.”

An uncomfortable silence filled the room and you felt you had to fill it and say something to reassure him. Or make things sound better. That’s what a responsible adult did in these types of situations. “Uh, the doctor says you’ll be back on your feet in no time.” You tried not to wince at the terrible cliché idiom. Wait. Was that an idiom? Or were you the idiom.

The Lil Bro hadn’t had a chance to see the damage to himself. He’d passed out long before you grabbed him and had only awoken at the brief touch of healing magic, surrounded by Monsters. He’d originally panicked, trying to dredge up an iota of energy to defend himself and it’d taken a long time to calm him down and explain where he was. By that time the little bit of magic he recouped was drained in a unsatisfying fizzle on fingertips. He didn’t have the energy to fight anyone and if he was going to be dusted, he damn well deserved it.

He’s been awake earlier after the skyscraper tall Monsters left, groggy but still alive though he couldn’t move anything from his waist down. At least he still had legs. He gave a derisive wheeze of a laugh. “sure, no time at all.” He sluggishly pushed the palm of his hands to his sockets, pressing with a slowly increasing pressure that made his vision swim and dance about in the darkness. He also told himself to stop talking, but like a liar and a rebel, he never listened. “i’m broken.”

“Who isn’t these days?” You tried to joke, but it fell flat.

i can’t walk.”

Swallowing the sudden and extremely unwelcoming lump on your throat, you said, “I-It’s only temporary.”

temporary!” Something more than pain edged into his voice, as he struggled to sit up, growling with each agonizing move.

“Whoa, whoa! Dude, calm down.” You stepped forward and he flailed at you, the fear back in a sudden rushing wave and his sockets blazed with weak magic that sparkled like pop rocks. He grunted, slapping a hand back to one of his sockets as if it added to his already miserable state.

no!

You backed up, hands raised in a placating gesture, feeling helpless and shitty at the fearful yell. “I’m not going to do anything!” The rushed stammer was loud in the room and you took a moment to quiet your soul before continuing.

“You gotta chill man. Please. You’re gonna hurt yourself more.” Where was everyone? Your helpful Monster in their sweet cardigan hadn’t returned and you really needed them now. You’d have left the little guy to find someone, but also really didn’t want to leave him alone. What if he tried something dumb? Remind you of anyone.

“Do you want me to get the doc?” You challenged and that seemed to calm his flailing. “Then slow your roll, bud.” The fight already seemed to have gone out of him and he slumped back, breathing heavily. There was another tense moment of silence as you stared, watching for any sign of dust.

“At the risk of being called names, are you okay?” You got a mirthless wheeze. “I’m going to take that as a possible maybe.” You rubbed your hip tenderly, pressing along the sore joint. “Do you really need a doctor? I can go find one.”

If it hadn’t been dead silent, you’d have missed the disquieted muttered, “what for. can’t do anything, can’t sit up, can’t use magic, can’t walk.”

“Time wounds all heels, dude.” You paused. “I mean, shit, the other way around, time heals all wounds. I mean, time definitely kicks an idiot in the ass. But, you know… give it time, you’ll be walking and taking names and all that jazz in no time.” You really hated idioms. Time didn’t heal anything, but you didn’t need to be a Debbie Downer right now.

like a fucking gimp.”

You grimaced at that, a pained look flittering across your face but you were quick to mask it. “Yeah, like a fucking gimp. So what. Own it.”

easy for you to say!” he snapped, wincing again as he pressed a hand against his side.

You didn’t want to keep upsetting him, having a terrible two for two track record already. There was no point in arguing or fighting. Letting your breath out in a sigh, you glanced behind you to see if anyone was around. Dragging the nearby chair from the wall, you set your pack in its place and scooted the chair in front of you. You didn’t want to do this and ignored the anxious flutter in your chest. You sucked at talking and were self aware enough to realize how bad you were at it. Maybe a round of show and tell would help. You hoped it would.

Swinging a hand under your right thigh, you dragged your sneaker up on it, keeping your other hand on the backrest for support. Your balance was awkward but you held it and rolled up your pant’s leg, feeling the Bitty watching like a hawk. You stopped mid calf, revealing the dull black rod of a prosthetic, the pylon widening to mirror a calf. You didn’t bother showing off the rest, the knee joint that replaced your own or the socket that encased your thigh and chaffed like a bitch after a long, ass day. Even now, your pants were soaked, making it difficult to move in the wet constricting material. The liner, the material that acted like a big sock had gotten wet and it rubbed uncomfortably against your inner thigh.

“Yeah,” you said with little emotion. “super easy for me.” Tugging the denim down, you smoothed a hand down the length to your sneaker to gather yourself. Your hand trembled and fiddled with a shoelace, keeping your gaze averted. God, you hated feeling like this, the uncertain feelings that made your stomach flip-flop, uncomfortable, embarrassed, stupid. Irrational, you told yourself. You’re just being dumb.

The Bitty stared, a faint light drifting form the depths of his sockets and you missed the emotions that cycled across his skull. He wilted back, finally turning himself over to his side with difficulty and hunched in on himself.

Sliding your shoe off the chair, you dropped into the seat with a muffled thump and your hips thanked you. Nothing like bringing a conversation to a grinding halt. You half-heartedly ran the towel through your hair, slouching. “What’s going to happen to you here?”

He shrugged awkwardly, tilting his head to hide the pain from doing so. Showing weakness in front of a human was grounds for trouble. If he was lucky, it was just yelling. He was never lucky. “put up for adoption or something.” That’d been what the Monsters told him. He’d be taken care of and if deemed well enough, a loving family could adopt him. That was the last thing he wanted.

“That what you want?”

doesn’t matter what i want,” he said, tone saying defeat.

“What?” You sat up, not entirely sure you heard right. “Yes it does. Of course it fucking matters, man.” That was a punch to the gut and instantly made your righteous temper flair. No one deserved to feel like they didn’t matter. “You’re a living, breathing being. If you don’t want something, then you don’t have to do it. You have every right, to…” You flailed a hand in a vague gesture of trying to complete your thought. “to yourself. Body autonomy, free will, some other important third thing. Dude, no one can tell you what to do. If they do, fuck ‘em. And if need be, you can always cut a bitch.”

Lilac shifted in the corner of your eye and you twisted to catch the Monster standing in the doorway and you weren’t sure how they’d been there. Or how much they heard. Your cheeks warmed as they looked down at you.

“Everything all right?”

“Uhhh…”

i’m tired.”

You nodded, respecting that. “Okay.” A hand went to the back of the chair to stand and your leg wobbled tiredly and you cursed under you breath as you sank back down. It was always easier to stand with armrests. A furred paw drifted in your vision and you accepted the help with a mumbled thanks, a small part of your brain delighted in the toe beans you squished. Letting go, you bent to grab your pack. “Take care, little dude.”

He didn’t answer, pointedly staring sideways toward the far wall.

“Have you a way home?” The Monster asked as you shuffled out after them.

“Yeah, I’ll call a taxi or something.” You fibbed, debating on walking home. It was too late for the buses and you already shelled out a buttload for a taxi. You pulled your phone out of pocket, checking the time. It was late but not that late.

“Thank you.”

“Huh?” You looked up at the Monster.

“Thank you,” they repeated, their smile drifting upwards to reveal blunted little fangs. “for helping him. If you hadn’t have found him when you did.” They trailed off, crestfallen at the what if and they wrung their paws.

“I didn’t do anything anyone else wouldn’t have done. Oomph! Wow. O~okay, that’s, uh, that’s a real hug there.” You awkwardly patted the arms that encircled you, threatening to lift you off the ground. They were warm and soft and the Monster smelled faintly of lavender as they carefully embraced you, tucking your head under their chin. They held you for only a moment before releasing you to lift the towel from your shoulders, folding it over their arms.

“All right, well, I’m gonna go.” You took a step back. “But uh, take care of yourself…”

“Monico.”

That was it. “Monico,” you repeated and fired off two quick finger guns. “Have a good night.” You were quick to make your exit, having enough touchy feely contact for one night. It’d stopped raining and you were grateful for that, having abandoned your umbrella to live a solitude life on the streets. You heard the door lock behind you and you risked a quick glance at the Monster standing at the door. They gave a wave and you returned it before trying to hunch your shoulders at the cold. It was pitch black out and there were a few cars on the road but nobody on the streets.

You could see your breath when you exhaled and groaned. It was going to be a long walk home in the dark. Lyft probably still ran but you were not in the mood to talk to anyone and the idea of having to call or even greet a stranger was already pushing you past your limit. You wanted to go home, take a hot shower and eat some cold pizza and crash in your nice cozy bed with too many pillows. Clapping your arms against your sides to work up in a little warmth, you decided to head off and stepped immediately into a large puddle with a splash.

You groaned and stepped out of it, glaring at the little bout of water and the reflection of the night sky shimmered above you. You looked up at the clouds and the sliver of moon nestled amongst them. There were no stars, not within the city, though sometimes if you were lucky, you could see a few from your apartment building. Of course that required badgering your next-door neighbor to use her patio, but she didn’t seem to mind much. She occasionally joined you too, offering a cup of hot cocoa or coffee and the two of you sat bundled under blankets till the wee early morning hours stargazing. No matter what, you always had a home to go back to, a place of comfort and safety. A place of your own.

Without thinking, you spun around and banged your hand on the glass door. Monico had already walked away and poked their head up from the front desk where they seemed to be tidying up. Catching sight of you, they hurried back and unlocked the door, a rush of warm air cascading over you.

“Did you forget something?” They asked.

“Yes,” you breathed. “I did.”